Nourishing Your Heart

The following article was featured in the Atascadero News in the Healthy Living section on February 20th, 2012:

Nourishing Your Heart
By Dr. Carolyn McGaughey,
Naturopathic Doctor (N.D.)

Eat Your Greens
Who hasn’t heard that elevated cholesterol is a risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease?  While high cholesterol is just one factor leading to heart disease, green foods may just be one of the superhero food groups that can help your body reverse the course of this disease and may even lower your risk for its development.  Baby greens, such as dandelion, mustard, kale, and beet greens, as well as the sprouts of beans and seeds, are chock-full of nutrients, such as fiber, niacin, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin E, lecithin, alpha-linolenic acid, and many trace minerals, including copper and selenium that have innumerable benefits for the heart.  They can help raise HDL and lower LDL cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, repair damaged blood vessels, thin the blood, and help the body process dietary fats more efficiently, among many other benefits.  Of course, since these foods do have blood thinning effects, intake should be optimized with any blood-thinning medications you might be taking, such as Coumadin or Warfarin.

Celebrate Sulfur
Sulfur-rich roots, such as garlic and onions, as well as vegetables in the sulfuric cruciferous family (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts) are another group of foods that are par excellence for the heart.  Garlic and onions are especially rich in a sulfuric compound called allicin.  Allicin has been shown to increase the level of a powerful antioxidant called glutathione in the cells lining our blood vessels, helping to repair damage caused by oxidative stress and high blood pressure.  Allicin can also assist the liver in optimizing cholesterol ratios and reducing blood glucose and triglyceride levels: a great benefit for those with Type II Diabetes and cholesterol metabolism issues.

Bring on the Berries
 Colorful red, blue, yellow, and orange berries represent another group of foods that can pack a powerful punch to make our cardiovascular system strong.  Damage to blood vessels, either through high blood pressure or other oxidative stressors, can lead to atherosclerosis and a narrowing of blood vessels.  Berries, such as cherries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, are packed with a class of nutrients called polyphenols, and more specifically a group of chemicals called anthocyanins.  These powerhouse nutrients have been shown to reduce the production of certain inflammatory markers responsible for the atherosclerotic process and have also been shown to increase production of a chemical called nitric oxide, one of the primary chemicals involved in reducing blood pressure.  While these foods may not be in season, frozen berries are typically always available and may, in fact, have higher anthocyanin levels than the fresh variety. 

Chock it up to Chocolate
One would be remiss to forget to mention the oh-so-important heart health benefits of chocolate.  This “food of the gods” takes center stage in the month of February for good reason.  Cocoa beans, like the berries, are rich in potent antioxidant compounds, (called flavanols) whose cardiovascular benefits are numerous.  Specifically, they have been shown to affect blood pressure by decreasing levels of an enzyme called ACE and by increasing levels of the blood pressure-lowering compound, nitric oxide, in the lining of blood vessels; additionally, they can also reduce the stickiness of platelets, preventing clot formation.  Cocoa has many, many other benefits, of course:  chocolate lovers will certainly vouch for the relaxation-inducing and mood-uplifting benefits as well!
Many other foods have tremendous benefits for our hearts in addition to the ones listed above.  Choose just a couple of these deliciously nourishing whole foods this month and your heart and your soul may just thank you in ways you can’t imagine.
1. Cocoa and Cardiovascular Health
Roberto Corti, MD*; Andreas J. Flammer, MD*; Norman K. Hollenberg, MD, PhD; Thomas F. Lüscher, MD
Circulation. 2009; 119: 1433-1441 doi: 10.1161/​CIRCULATIONAHA.108.827022
2.Cocoa polyphenols enhance positive mood states but not cognitive performance: A randomized, placebo-controlled trial.
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1Centre for Human Psychopharmacology, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia.
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Circulation. 2009 Mar 17;119(10):1433-41. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.108.827022.
Cardiovascular Center, Cardiology, University Hospital, Raemistrasse 100, CH-8091 Zurich, Switzerland.
4. Cocoa, blood pressure, and vascular function.
Sudano I, Flammer AJ, Roas S, Enseleit F, Ruschitzka F, Corti R, Noll G.
Curr Hypertens Rep. 2012 Aug;14(4):279-84. doi: 10.1007/s11906-012-0281-8.
Source: Cardiovascular Center Cardiology, University Hospital Zurich, Raemistrasse 100, CH-8091, Zurich, Switzerland.
5. Health effects of garlic.
Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2012;2012:489690. doi: 10.1155/2012/489690. Epub 2012 Aug 9.
Cholesterol-lowering effect of allicin on hypercholesterolemic ICR mice.
Lu Y, He Z, Shen X, Xu X, Fan J, Wu S, Zhang D.
Am Fam Physician. 2005 Jul 1;72(1):103-6.
Source: College of Biological and Environmental Engineering, Zhejiang Shuren University, Hangzhou 310015, China.
6. S-allylmercapto-N-acetylcysteine up-regulates cellular glutathione and protects vascular endothelial cells from oxidative stress.
Izigov N, Farzam N, Savion N.
Goldschleger Eye Research Institute, Tel Hashomer 52621, Israel.
Free Radic Biol Med. 2011 May 1;50(9):1131-9. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2011.01.028. Epub 2011 Jan 31.
7. Processed tart cherry products--comparative phytochemical content, in vitro antioxidant capacity and in vitro anti-inflammatory activity.
Ou B, Bosak KN, Brickner PR, Iezzoni DG, Seymour EM.
J Food Sci. 2012 May;77(5):H105-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2012.02681.x.
Brunswick Labs, Southborough, MA 01772, USA.
8. Effects of Some Common Food Constituents on Cardiovascular Disease
Yaling Yang, 1 Sze Wa Chan, 1 Miao Hu, 1 Richard Walden, 2 and Brian Tomlinson 1 ,*
ISRN Cardiol. 2011; 2011: 397136.
Published online 2011 June 16. doi:  10.5402/2011/397136
PMCID: PMC3262529
9.Flavanols and Anthocyanins in Cardiovascular Health: A Review of Current Evidence
Sonia de Pascual-Teresa,1 Diego A. Moreno,2,* and Cristina García-Viguera2
Int J Mol Sci. 2010; 11(4): 1679–1703.
Published online 2010 April 13. doi:  10.3390/ijms11041679
PMCID: PMC2871133
10. Momordica charantia maintains normal glucose levels and lipid profiles and prevents oxidative stress in diabetic rats subjected to chronic sucrose load.
Chaturvedi P, George S.
Department of Biological Sciences, Botswana College of Agriculture, Gaborone, Botswana.
J Med Food. 2010 Jun;13(3):520-7. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2009.0151.