It beats around 100,00 times a day and is a truly amazing organ! Yes, your heart is incredible, and it needs taking care of just like the rest of the body.
When it comes to heart-health, there are some key vitamins and minerals that are essential to keep it beating long and strong.
This National Cholesterol Month, Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares five key vitamins and minerals for heart health.
When it comes to the heart, vitamin C is certainly an essential nutrient. As one of our key antioxidant nutrients, vitamin C protects the heart from all that life throws at it.
We all have fats circulating within the blood stream. However, when these levels are elevated (generally caused by a diet high in fat and sugar), these fats (also known as triglycerides) start to attach themselves to the artery wall. Over time this can increase your risk of a stroke or heart attack, as blood flow is blocked. Additionally, fats oxidise and harden the arteries causing a condition known as atherosclerosis. Furthermore, cholesterol, another type of fat, can be dangerous when not dealt with correctly within the body.
Vitamin C not only protects the arteries from damaging free radicals, but it also helps reduce blood cholesterol levels, thereby giving the heart a really great fighting chance of being healthy. Interestingly, foods rich in vitamin C such as berry fruits are also high in plant compounds called polyphenols. These also provide antioxidants and wonderful benefits to the heart. Ami to eat a handful of berries every day.
Part of the family of B-vitamins, Vitamin B3 is a key heart nutrient because its helps raise levels of the healthy HDL cholesterol, whilst reducing overall cholesterol readings. Just like all good families, the Bs do work together but each one has its own specific claim to fame. That’s not to say the other don’t also have a role to play in heart health (see below).
The good news is that vitamin B3 is found in a variety of animal and plant foods including beef, liver, fish, eggs, avocados, whole grains and nuts and seeds. Oily fish also contains heart-healthy omega-3 fats so eating some portions of salmon or mackerel regularly, will help the heart all ways round.
Magnesium is a key heart mineral, alongside potassium (see below). Magnesium essentially has two main roles to play. It works as a muscle relaxant, helping relax the heart muscle and arteries thereby keeping blood pressure in the healthy range. Secondly it is a key electrolyte, balancing nerve transmissions throughout cells. Magnesium’s role is primarily enabling essential enzyme reactions that have a direct effect on heart and blood vessel health.
Magnesium is frequently deficient in both men and women due to poor dietary intake. It’s predominantly found in whole grains and green leafy veg, hence it’s low in the typical Western diet.
Just like magnesium, potassium is a key electrolyte but works primarily with sodium helping maintain water balance and the correct acidity levels in the blood. It also helps regulate nerve and muscle activity. These are all essential for keeping the heart beating 24/7 as well as maintaining blood pressure at the right levels.
The great news is that potassium is widely available in fruits and vegetables and is especially high in bananas, melons, apricots, grapefruit, and sweet potatoes. It’s great to include as much colour variety in the diet as possible so you’ll also be getting that all-important vitamin C.
Another key member of the family of B-vitamins, Vitamin B12 is as essential but works in a different way to some of the other Bs. Vitamin B12 is needed for the process of methylation, an essential bodily process that happens thousands of times each day. It helps control production of a toxic amino acid metabolite called homocysteine; high levels have often been associated with cases of heart disease. B12 works alongside folate and vitamin B6 in this process.
Deficiency of B12 can cause pernicious anaemia (one symptom being heart palpitations) but can also bring on extreme tiredness. Vitamin B12 is poorly absorbed in the body so there are times when the GP will recommend injections. However, for most people, eating plenty in the diet is generally sufficient to keep everything working well. The only downside is that B12 is generally only found in animal foods, so I would recommend that if you are vegetarian or vegan get your levels checked as you may need to supplement.
Celebrate all that is amazing about your beating heart: take care of it well and it will love you for many years to come.
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