Heart Health

Heart health is on everyone’s mind these days, and we’re all concerned about getting the right tips for heart health that will make it simple to make the right decisions about diet and lifestyle. Natural heart health may mean adding the right cholesterol-lowering herbs and supplements into your health regimen, or cutting back on foods that can put you at risk for heart disease. Our experts—along with our annual Healthy Heart Events—can make your plan for natural heart health simple. Turn to Project Wellness for continual updates on heart health tips that can make our hearts healthier for the long term.

  • Natural Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol

    Need to lower your cholesterol? Here, Dr. Brad Jacobs talks about natural ways to maintain healthy cholesterol levels through diet, exercise and supplementation.

    This video is part of a series of educational videos we'll be posting from members of our Integrative Health Advisory Board.

  • Boost Heart Health with Good Oral Care

    It is no coincidence that a strong correlation exists between oral health and overall health. After all, most foreign matter enters the body through the mouth. Still, even the most health conscious among us are often guilty of neglecting our dental health. Research from the past ten years demonstrates that it is time for oral care to be given the kind of attention a perfect smile deserves.

    The mouth-heart connection is well documented. A 2004 study found that 91 percent of patients with cardiovascular disease also suffered from moderate to severe periodontal disease. Annual dental checkups are an important step in recognizing this condition because it is often painless in the early stages. According to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, approximately 75 percent of American adults have some form of periodontal disease.

    Give your mouth the best care by choosing healthy oral care products. The Natural Dentist makes toothpastes and mouthwashes that are free of alcohol, dyes, harsh chemicals, detergents and artificial preservatives. Our product selection from Desert Essence is free of harsh abrasives, synthetic sweeteners and artificial flavors. Pharmaca also carries eco-friendly toothbrushes by Recycline, made from recycled yogurt containers, and many more oral health favorites.

    Our health care practitioners recommend the following steps as part of a holistic oral care regimen:

    • Brush after every meal
    • Floss every day
    • Eat a healthy diet rich in vegetables and whole grains
    • Include dental health in discussions with your doctor
    • Supplement with calcium and vitamin C
    • Exercise regularly to improve circulation
    • Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol
    • Visit your dentist at least once each year
  • Chocolate: The key to your heart?

    Looks like giving chocolate to your loved one for Valentine’s Day isn’t just a sweet thing to do—it could also help their heart. An August 2011 review published in the British Medical Journal found that people who consumed the highest levels of chocolate (generally more than once a week) had a substantially reduced cardiovascular risk than those who ate chocolate rarely. The systematic review covered seven studies that recorded varying levels of chocolate consumption and the associated health effects.

    “Recent studies (both experimental and observational) have suggested that chocolate consumption has a positive influence on human health…,” the report states. “These beneficial effects have been confirmed in recent reviews and meta-analyses, supporting the positive role of cacao and cocoa products on cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis, and insulin resistance.”

    “Five of the seven studies reported a beneficial association between higher levels of chocolate consumption and the risk of cardiometabolic disorders. The highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease…and a 29% reduction in stroke compared with the lowest levels.”

    Experts agree that the best way to benefit from chocolate’s polyphenols is to lean toward darker chocolate, minus the added dairy and sugar. Ones to try: Pharmaca's two Dark Chocolate Bars, made from organic, Fair Trade chocolate in 78% and 70% cocoa contents.

    Stop in and check out the rest of Pharmaca’s heart-smart chocolate selection today!    

  • Ask the MD: Good Heart Health

    Wondering about how and when to get your cholesterol checked, or how exercise can boost your cardiovascular health? We got answers to some common heart health questions from Dr. Brad Jacobs, MD, and Chair of Pharmaca's Integrative Health Advisory Board.

    How often should I have my cholesterol checked?
    Typically we recommend you get your cholesterol checked once a year. For men that should start at age 35, and women age 45. If you have an increased risk (i.e. a family history of early heart disease), then we recommend you check it at least once between the ages of 20-35. If it's elevated at that point, continue to get it annually, otherwise you can continue with the normal guidelines.    

    When you do get it checked, make sure you have both your HDL and LDL tested, since total cholesterol is less relevant. The LDL should be as low as possible, and the "good stuff," HDL, as high as possible. The general guidelines are to aim for higher than 45 for HDL, and below 130 for LDL-unless you're at risk for heart issues, in which case we recommend an LDL below 100.

    What integrative therapies can I use to lower my cholesterol?
    The most important things are lifestyle changes. I'm a big fan of modifying people's diet. Everyone seems to know what they're supposed to eat, but it's hard to implement that in their life.

    Instead I tell people to change the proportion of types of food they put on their plate. Rather than filling your plate with half meat and carbs and a quarter vegetables, reconfigure it so that three-quarters of the plate is filled with vegetables, at least at lunch and dinner. When you do that, it can dramatically change your overall heart health and cholesterol.

    When you do eat meat and carbohydrates, make them whole grain carbs, and diversify your protein sources by incorporating legumes, fish, soy or, if necessary, a lean meat. I recommend eating red meat modestly, about 1-2 times per month. (For more information on healthy eating, I recommend the Harvard School of Public Health's Healthy Eating Pyramid by Dr. Willett.)

    Eating this way increases your fiber consumption, and reduces your saturated fat intake, both powerful tools for lowering your cholesterol and your risk for heart disease. If you can't get enough fiber through food (ideally 20 g per day), try supplements such as psyllium husks, triphala (a fiber-based compound from India), or beta glucans. Make sure you're drinking enough water as well. When you're eating this much fiber, staying hydrated allows bowel movements to flow more freely, which can help relieve both diarrhea and constipation. Vegetables themselves also allow you to have more rapid bowel movements, which can reduce colon cancer risk, allow you to lose weight, lower cholesterol, etc.

    Another important lifestyle change is maintaining a healthy weight, as weight itself affects cholesterol. If you can lose more than 5 percent of your weight you can reduce your cholesterol. Find a peer you want to lose weight with, since the buddy system almost always makes losing weight more successful. If you don't have one, try WeightWatchers or SparkPeople, fantastic programs that have hundreds of thousands of participants. (Read more about my weight management tips here).

    I also recommend the following supplements for lowering cholesterol:
    ·     Niacin: Take in small doses several times per day to help increase your HDL levels.
    ·     Garlic: Research has linked it to modest lowering of cholesterol, and it can be beneficial for overall health.
    ·     Omega-3s: Strong evidence shows that these reduce your triglycerides, and can help increase heart attack survival rates.
    ·     I've also found plant sterols to be quite effective, especially beta-sitosterols, which are quite helpful for modifying LDL. You can find them in spreads such as Benacol or in supplements like Natural Factors' Cholesterol Formula.

    What about blood pressure?
    There is some overlap with blood pressure and cholesterol. Stopping smoking, reducing your weight and managing your stress can all can reduce your blood pressure. Decreasing your alcohol and salt consumption can also help.

    As for supplements, magnesium and calcium are thought to have modest blood pressure-lowering effects, and CoQ10 is thought to lower systolic blood pressure. Finally, there is a lot of research showing that yoga can have dramatic effects on blood pressure, as it affects breathing, reduces overall stress and reduces the stress hormone cortisol.

    Should I be taking an aspirin every day?
    I am in favor of taking a baby aspirin (81 mg) for men and women over 40. Research shows that it can reduce the rate of cancer by up to 33 percent in this group, and can prevent heart disease. It's important to note that some people are at increased risk for bleeding, and aspirin can exacerbate that, so speak with your doctor before starting an aspirin regimen. Asthmatics can also see a worsening of symptoms with aspirin. 

    How should exercise figure in to a heart-healthy lifestyle?
    Exercise itself has been shown to improve cholesterol. The most important thing is to find an exercise that you like to do. What did you do in high school for fun? Try and do something based on that. Any exercise is exponentially better than none, so just getting out and walking for 20 minutes can give you significant health benefits.

    National guidelines recommend 30-60 minutes, 5 days per week. If it's too difficult to find that much time, incorporate exercise into your normal activities such as walking to/from work, taking stairs instead of elevators or doing a 'walking' meeting instead of sitting in your chair.

    Ideally, you should aim for exercises that strengthen the body and improve your cardiopulmonary system. I'm also a big fan of exercises that affect the mind, like tai chi, yoga, since they stretch and strengthen the body while relaxing and calming the mind, (which can lower blood pressure).

    What is the connection between oral health and heart health?
    There's thought to be a relationship between oral hygiene and heart health, since people with poor oral hygiene are thought to have chronic inflammation in the body, which puts you at higher risk for heart attack. Chronic inflammation in the mouth is like a low-grade infection, which keeps your system in a revved up state where the cytokines and immune system are always activated. That's why a diet that's high in anti-inflammatory compounds can reduce your heart disease risk.

    For more advice about maintaining good cardiovascular health, speak with a Pharmaca practitioner today.

  • Better Heart Health Now

    According to Harvard Health Publications, approximately 90 percent of people with cardiovascular disease have at least one risk factor that is controllable. Research indicates that problems like high cholesterol and high blood pressure can be managed and even eliminated with preventive measures.

    The most important way to protect your heart? Living a healthy lifestyle, such as eating well, exercising regularly and avoiding smoking. Get additional benefits by supplementing a well-balanced diet with these vital nutrients.

    1. Both EPA and DHA are types of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil that help keep blood triglyceride levels in check and lower elevated blood pressure. If you aren’t eating several servings of fatty fish each week, your diet may be lacking in important omega-3s. Supplement with fish oil from a trusted company like Nordic Naturals, which uses sustainable fishing methods and observes stringent guidelines to minimize exposure to common contaminants such as mercury.

    2. CoQ10 is produced naturally in the human body, but low levels have been demonstrated in patients with heart conditions. Preliminary research suggests that supplementation with CoQ10 may be beneficial in the treatment of angina and elevated blood pressure. Our practitioners often recommend New Chapter CoQ10 because it is fermented and therefore more bioavailable in the body. Try pairing a CoQ10 supplement and D-ribose, both of which provide cellular energy. CoQ10 is especially important for people already taking statins.

    3. Research over the past five years has shown promising evidence of resveratrol’s ability to increase life expectancy in animals. More recent studies have shown human benefits that include increased circulation and improved control of diabetes. While red wine has been shown to contain this compound, it would take far too many glasses of wine to reach levels used in research. Instead, supplement with Jarrow Formulas Resveratrol 100 capsules for antioxidant benefits like inhibiting LDL oxidation and maintaining the integrity of capillaries.

    4. Garlic has been used for over a thousand years in Chinese medicine to help thin the blood. Many more recent scientific studies have demonstrated garlic’s ability to not only prevent but also reverse the development of atherosclerosis, or plaque build-up in arterial walls. A 2009 study led by the University of Connecticut School of Medicine found that while fresh garlic is most beneficial, processed garlic also retains some antioxidant properties.

    5. Hawthorn extract has been used in the U.S. for cardiovascular purposes since the 1880s. Flavonoids are one of hawthorn extract’s most beneficial compounds, responsible for helping protect blood-vessel health and increasing blood flow. We often recommend supplementing with Hawthorn Supreme from Gaia Herbs, whose products are organically grown on a farm in North Carolina.

    Pharmaca recommends consulting with your regular physician before beginning a supplement program. One of our practitioners can then discuss options, benefits, brands and dosage with you in our stores.

  • Research Says Chocolate Reduces Risk of Heart Disease

    We’ve heard about many of the health benefits of chocolate—and now there’s even more healthy evidence. A new study shows that chocolate has significant cardiovascular health benefits when consumed in moderation.

    According to "Eating Chocolate Cuts Risk of Heart Disease," published by the University of Cambridge, eating chocolate is associated with a significantly reduced risk of certain cardiovascular disorders. The original research for this compelling study was published in the British Medical Journal in early 2011.

    Researchers reviewed seven studies utilizing data from 114,000 patients. They found that people who consumed the most chocolate had a 37 percent lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than people who consumed less chocolate. Additionally, the patients who consumed the most chocolate had a 29 percent lower risk of having a stroke than those who consumed less chocolate. The studies involved dark chocolate, milk chocolate, chocolate drinks and other products that included chocolate.

    While new research continues to show us that chocolate can be a healthy addition to our diets, don’t forget that it’s also packed with calories—so don’t overindulge!

    To learn more about healthy foods and how to supplement your diet with the vitamins and antioxidants your diet may be lacking (such as the flavonoids in chocolate), please consult a Pharmaca practitioner.

  • Boost Your Heart Health with the Right Veggies

    A study that was published in the July 2011 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that eating your veggies--particularly cruciferous vegetables--can dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease.

    The study followed 73,000 men and 67,000 women for approximately five and 10 years, respectively, collecting information on their consumption of fruits and vegetables. The results showed that men and women who ate the most fruits and veggies were 16 percent less likely to have died of heart disease during the study than those who ate the least.

    BUT, people who ate the most cruciferous vegetables--meaning broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy and kale--were 22 percent less likely to die of heart disease.

    Bonus: Another new study shows that cruciferous veggies are also good for boosting immunity!

  • Ask a Practitioner: How can I naturally lower my cholesterol?

    We get questions nearly every day via Ask a Practitioner from people with a variety of health concerns. Our practitioners take turns answering these questions, offering advice based on their experience and expertise. Every now and then we post some of these questions with the hopes that our practitioners' advice can help answer some of your health questions.

    Q. I've been taking Lipitor to lower my cholesterol, but I'm worried about the side effects. What are some natural options to cholesterol control?

    A. There are many natural solutions to high cholesterol. With that being said, you should always consult with your doctor before going off a medication so they can be informed and lower your doses appropriately. If you were to safely go off Lipitor, there are many dietary and supplement recommendations that you can try.

    The first recommendation I always start with is fiber, since increasing your dose of daily fiber is essential to good lipid health. Another dietary recommendations is including one serving of soy per day in your diet. Garlic also has very beneficial effects for cholesterol.

    Some common supplements that can be beneficial are Red Yeast Rice, B vitamins, policosanols, artichoke and plant sterols. We sell a product at Pharmaca called Meta-sitosterol 2.0 by Metagenics, which contains only the plant sterols in high doses. Another one of my favorites is Cho-Less by Natura. There are many formulas of herbs and nutrients that combine all of these ingredients together that can be very effective.

    After you consult with your physician, stop by one of our locations and a practitioner can help you select a few products that would be best for you.
    -Shannon Wood, Naturopath, San Francisco

    The information provided here is intended for educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  • Video: Managing Your Cholesterol Naturally

    Need to lower your cholesterol? Here, Dr. Brad Jacobs talks about natural ways to maintain healthy cholesterol levels through diet, exercise and supplementation.

    This video is part of a series of educational videos we'll be posting from members of our Integrative Health Advisory Board.

  • The (healthy) glory of chocolate

    We just stumbled on this little nugget by John Robbins over at the Huffington Post—we've never seen someone lay out the true health benefits of chocolate quite so well. It turns out it's not just full of antioxidants, it's also great for your heart, your mood, etc. As Robbins says, "There is in fact a growing body of credible scientific evidence that chocolate contains a host of heart-healthy and mood-enhancing phytochemicals, with benefits to both body and mind."

    He goes on to talk about how it's packed with polyphenols that inhibit atherosclerosis, how it helps lower blood pressure, elevate moods by releasing pleasurable endorphins and boosts serotonin levels in the brain. Sounds like a superfood to us! (And it's good to know that the bad rap that chocolate has gotten over the years is mostly due to the additives we put in it--butterfat and sugar, namely--that can boost fat and high cholesterol.)

    Robbins concludes by talking about how much chocolate we really need to reap all those benefits: "According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adding only half an ounce of dark chocolate to an average American diet is enough to increase total antioxidant capacity 4 percent, and lessen oxidation of LDL cholesterol."

    The perfect afternoon snack. Grab one of Pharmaca's fair-trade or organic dark chocolates and munch happy (and healthy)!

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