Most of you are primarily interested in getting huge and I'll be the first to agree, moving big weights is great. However, there is one muscle that many folks forget to exercise - the heart. It doesn't really matter how big your biceps are if your heart is weaker than an elementary school child.
Since we all know that exercise is crucial for the heart, along with not smoking, or living on fast-food burgers and fries, we all know that exercise is crucial for the heart. There are many nutrients that also seem to be of interest, though, and that's what I'm going to touch on briefly in this piece.
Maintaining a healthy heart takes more than a little exercise. Nutrition plays a significant role in keeping the most important muscle in the body healthy. For example, cardiologists have long known that eating fish helps protect against heart disease.
In fact, the American Heart Association has now recommended Americans consume 2-3 oz servings of fish per week. Moreover, nutrients like CoQ10, resveratrol, and garlic powder have been investigated to help keep the 'ol ticker going strong.
Ingredients For A Healthy Heart
Let's take a look into how or why it is thought that specific ingredients may be beneficial for heart health.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
First up, omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids belong to a group of compounds known as polyunsaturated fatty acids.
The Three Omega-3 Fatty Acids Are:
- alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
On the other hand, EPA and DHA are found in fish and other cold water marine animals, such as seals and whales. Because omega-3 fatty acids cannot be synthesized in the body via other nonlipid precursors, they are essential fatty acids that must be consumed in the diet. Learn More About Essential Fatty Acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids offer a myriad of unique health benefits and can play an important role in the treatment cardiovascular disease1. I have previously reviewed some other studies too discussing their potential role in decreasing muscle soreness and fat loss; they truly can be an important part of the diet.
Most cases of heart disease are brought on by thrombosis, the occlusion of blood flow through the vessel, thereby depriving the tissue of needed oxygen.
One factor that plays a role in the etiology of thrombosis is the aggregation of platelets. All of the specific mechanisms are not clear, but it does appear that omega-3 fatty acids fatty acids decrease platelet aggregation.
EPA & DHA
While sufficient intake of all essential fatty acids is crucial, the abovementioned health benefits are supported more by the intake of EPA and DHA, rather than ALA itself.
This is because conversion of ALA to either EPA or DHA is poor and does not occur to any measurable degree. Therefore, many of the positive results that come from EPA and DHA cannot be replicated by ALA; however, ALA consumption offers its own unique benefits.
For this reason, dietary supplements focusing on heart health most commonly contain both EPA and DHA. Remember, these essential fatty acids cannot be produced by the body, so must be taken through the foods we eat or the supplements we consume.
Of course food is recommended as the primary source of omega-3's, but not everyone eats fish or other high omega-3 foods on a regular basis. If you do decide to supplement with fish oil, shoot for just a couple grams a day; there is no need to overdo it because, remember, they act as anti-coagulants, meaning they have the potential to interact with other medications that do the same.
Coenzyme Q (CoQ10)
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a vitamin-like substance found in all cells of the human body and circulating levels decrease with age. Without getting into technicalities, CoQ10 is an integral component of something called the electron transport chain. Here it acts as an electron carrier and, subsequently is necessary for ATP production.
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So what does it have to do with heart health? Well, some studies demonstrate that CoQ10 may act as an antioxidant, by preventing LDL oxidation2, scavenging free radicals and helping regenerate other antioxidants, namely vitamin E and vitamin C3.
Resveratrol has most recently been included in dietary supplements as a preventative measure against atherosclerosis.
Naturally, resveratrol is primarily found in red wine, red grape skins, purple grape juice, and mulberries4 and it's inclusion in dietary supplements comes from the established health benefit of drinking red wine or grape juice5.
However, little is known about the specific extract from red wine in humans, so more research is clearly warranted. Regardless of this particular benefit, though, eat red and black grapes to get the benefit from the whole fruit!
Finally, garlic powder is included in many dietary supplements marketed as heart health products.
A study conducted in 2001 did demonstrate that individuals taking a garlic powder tablet had a significant reduction in total cholesterol when compared to the placebo group(6).
Of course whole garlic would provide a much greater benefit than any dried concentrate, but regularly gnawing on cloves of garlic may be a bit difficult and your friends and lifting partner may not be too fond of you or your breath.
Either way, using garlic regularly in cooking will not only provide a great flavor, but also some health benefit. At this time it's a bit premature to recommend garlic supplements.
These are just a handful of popular supplements for heart health. Never underestimate the power of dark colored fruits and veggies, which offer many more nutrients than any pill could ever offer. Of course, the exercise part is crucial too.
Many of you probably forgo the cardio part of exercising; if this is the case, be sure to cut down your rest between sets with the weights, to also boost the heart and keep it elevated for a sustained period of time.
Although you can't see your heart, it's a lot more important than the size of your traps (although, those too are very important).
- Bucher et al. N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Med 112:298-304, 2002
- Weber et al. Antioxidative effect of dietary coenzyme Q10 in human blood plasma. Int J Vit Nutr Res 64: 311-315.
- Crane FL. Biochemical functions of coenzyme Q10. J Am Coll Nutr 20:591-598, 2002.
- Soleas GJ et al. Resveratrol: a molecule whose time has come? And gone? Clin Biochem 30:91-113,1997
- Caimi G et al. Wine and endothelial function. Drugs Exp Clin Res. 29(5-6):235-242, 2003
- Kannar et al. Hypocholesterolemic effect of an enteric-coated garlic supplement. J Am Coll Nutr 20:225-231, 2001.