An American suffers a heart attack every 20 seconds. That adds up to 180 heart attacks every hour. Many of these life threatening events don’t have to happen: heart-healthy nutrients, weight control and exercise could ease this epidemic. More evidence of how to protect your heart piles up every day, amounting to a stack of research thicker than the juiciest, most heart-threatening cheeseburger on a big, fat bun.

To protect your heart, you’ve got to protect your arteries, the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart and also feed the heart muscle oxygen and nutrients. Arteries are essentially three-layered tubes: the inner endothelium, a middle muscle layer which allows the artery to widen and contract, and an outer layer that encloses and supports the other two. When the lining, which is normally smooth, is damaged, the resulting rough patch develops plaque from LDL cholesterol, and the artery narrows and hardens. When LDL cholesterol is oxidized into plaque, the resulting damage attracts large immune cells called macrophages which consume the oxidized LDL and get trapped in the developing plaque. Oxidized LDL is also associated with the death of muscle cells in the artery’s middle layer (Circulation 2000; 102:2680). Plaque slows blood flow to the heart and can result in angina, chest pain often brought about by exertion. Heart attacks strike when unstable plaque ruptures, triggering blood clotting that blocks blood flow and may kill sections of the heart muscle as it’s cut off from oxygen and nutrients. Foods, like fatty meats, filled with saturated fat, are believed to start this heart-threatening process. Even by age 15, your arteries may be narrowing.

Sudden cardiac death is a common occurrence in industrialized countries. There is evidence that a high level of free fatty acids in the blood plasma is an independent risk factor for ventricular arrhythmias and sudden death in people who have suffered a heart attack. Medical researchers at the University of Paris and Researchers at the University of Washington now report that a high level of circulating free fatty acids (non- esterified) is also a potent risk factor for sudden death in men without cardiovascular disease. Sudden cardiac death kills about 250,000 Americans every year and half of them have no known cardiovascular disease when they are suddenly struck down.

The heart’s best friend

An enormous amount of medical literature testifies to the fact that fish oils prevent and may help to ameliorate or reverse atherosclerosis, angina, heart attack, congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. Fish oils help maintain the elasticity of artery walls, prevent blood clotting, reduce blood pressure and stabilize heart rhythm. Danish researchers have concluded that fish oil supplementation may help prevent arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death in healthy men. An Italian study of 11,000 heart attack survivors found that patients supplementing with fish oils markedly reduced their risk of another heart attack, a stroke or death. A group of German researchers found that fish oil supplementation for 2 years caused regression of atherosclerotic deposits. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Now report that men with a high intake of oils from fatty fish rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids (eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]) have an 81 per cent lower risk of sudden cardiac death than do men with a low intake. Danish researchers now report that fish oils markedly increase heart rate variability. They conclude that high body levels of EPA and DHA can markedly reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death and ascribe this protective effect to the increased heart rate variability associated with increased fish or fish oil consumption.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids help protect against heart disease

The American Heart Association (AHA) has just released its most recent guidelines for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease by dietary and other lifestyle practices. The AHA clearly endorses the consumption of fish or fish oils as a means of preventing and treating heart disease. The guidelines point to the growing body of evidence indicating that foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), provide significant protection against heart disease. Among the benefits of EPA and DHA, the main components of fish oils, are:

  • Lower risk of arrhythmias.
  • A reduction in the risk of sudden cardiac death.
  • Lower plasma triglyceride levels.
  • Reduced blood clotting tendency.

The ultimate supplement for heart health

Researchers at the Mid America Heart Institute have come out strongly in favor of routine fish or fish oil supplementation for heart patients and people at risk for heart disease. The researchers summarize the results of a large number of clinical trials which have clearly shown that fish oil supplementation or increased fish consumption can reduce the risk of dying from heart disease by 20- 50% or more. They believe that fish oils (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) exert their protective effect by preventing fatal ventricular arrhythmias, by increasing heart rate variability, decreasing fibrinogen and platelet counts (important in preventing blood clotting) and by reducing blood pressure. A recent trial found that fish oils are highly effective in reducing ventricular premature complexes (missed heart beats) and they have also been found to counteract the arrhythmia-inducing properties of eicosanoids derived from arachidonic acid. There is clear evidence that a diet rich in oily fish confers considerable protection against heart disease. What is less clear is whether concentrated fish tissue oils in capsule form confer similar benefits. Italian researchers found in a clinical study, fish oils alone and in combination with vitamin E, lower the risk of another heart attack in patients who have survived after first heart attack. Other studies have shown that vitamin E protects fish oils from going rancid so it is a good idea to take a combination of the two).

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have found that supplementing with of fish oil can lower diastolic pressure and systolic pressure in people with elevated blood pressure. Enough to avoid taking drugs in cases of borderline hypertension. Several other clinical trials have confirmed that fish oils are indeed effective in lowering high blood pressure and that they may work even better if combined with a program of salt restriction.

Flaxseed Oil

One of the Essential Fatty Acids in flaxseed oil (Alpha- Linolenic Acid) is known as an omega-3 fatty acid. Like the omega-3s found in fish oil, it appears to reduce the risk of heart disease and numerous other ailments. Flaxseed oil is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty. Flaxseeds also contain omega-6 fatty acids in the form of linoleic acid; omega-6 fatty acids are the same healthy fats found in vegetable oils. In addition, flaxseeds are a rich source of lignans, substances that appear to positively affect hormone-related problems. Lignans may also be useful in preventing certain cancers and combating specific bacteria, fungi, and viruses, including those that cause cold sores and shingles.

Lower cholesterol, protect against heart disease and control high blood pressure.

Several studies indicate that flaxseed oil, as well as ground flaxseeds, can lower cholesterol, thereby significantly reducing the risk of heart disease. Taking flaxseed oil may also protect against angina (chest pain) and high blood pressure. In addition, a five-year study done recently at Boston’s Simmons College found that flaxseed oil may be useful in preventing a second heart attack. It may also help prevent elevated blood pressure by inhibiting inflammatory reactions that cause artery-hardening plaque and poor circulation.

Vitamin E

Helps prevent cancer, heart disease, cataracts. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant. The best evidence so far concerns the protective effect of large doses of vitamin E against coronary artery disease.

Specifically, vitamin E may help to: Prevent or delay heart disease and related complications. Vitamin E’s ability to protect against cardiovascular disease has been intensively studied and was initially thought to be very promising. The vitamin appears to prevent the oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, the first step in the development of atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in the arteries that inhibits normal circulation.

Vitamin E is not plentiful in foods, so we recommend that you take a daily supplement of 200 to 400 IU.

Additionally, vitamin E is believed to help prevent the formation of blood clots and to minimize the inflammatory process involved in heart disease development. Still a matter of debate, however, is whether an antioxidant such as vitamin E (including both tocopherols and tocotrienols) can prevent strokes, which aren’t directly related to atherosclerosis. Vitamin E is not plentiful in foods, so we recommend that you take a daily supplement of 200 to 400 IU.

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