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.

  • Start planning your healthy Valentine's Day dinner

    You—and your heart—will these healthy twists on romantic dishes. Click here for a complete menu for Valentine's Day, including Forest Mushroom Pate and Honey Balsamic Salmon with Creamy Spinach Saute. In the meantime, here's one for our favorite part—dessert!

    Silky Chocolate Fondue

    Nothing says, "I love you" like double chocolate fondue, especially when it's made with dark chocolate, known to contain beneficial antioxidants. Dip and swirl your way to your loved one's heart with fresh berries, bananas and sweet fat-free angel food cake. If you don't have a fondue pot, serve in a mini-crock pot or in a bowl over a saucepan of warm water.

    Makes about 2 cups

    1 cup 2% chocolate milk
    12 oz. dark chocolate (60 - 65% cacao), chopped
    3 Tbs. light agave nectar
    1 tsp. vanilla extract

    1. Heat milk in a saucepan over medium heat until it just begins to simmer. Remove from heat, add chocolate and whisk until chocolate is smooth and silky. Whisk in agave and vanilla.

    2. Pour into fondue pot or mini-crock pot and enjoy immediately.

    Fondue Flavor Variations

    • Add 2 to 3 Tbs. of your favorite liqueur, like Frangelico, Bailey's Irish Cream, Creme de Menthe, Grand Marnier, Amaretto or Chambord.
    • Add 1 tsp. cinnamon and a pinch of ground cayenne or ancho chile pepper for Mexican-style fondue.
    • Mix 1 tsp. espresso powder with 2 Tbs. water and stir it into the fondue.

    Low-Fat Dippables

    • Strawberries, Raspberries and Bananas
    • Dried Apricots
    • Crystallized Ginger
    • Pretzels
    • Graham Crackers
    • Marshmallows
    • Meringue Cookies
    • Biscotti
    • Angel Food Cake

    PER SERVING (1/4 cup fondue): 195CAL; 3G PROT; 9G TOTAL FAT (4G SAT. FAT); 26G CARB; 3MG CHOL; 27MG SOD; 3G FIBER; 70G SUGARS

    Recipes by Melynda's Kitchen

  • Cook Up a Valentine's Day Dinner with Heart

    You—and your heart—will enjoy a healthier twist on these romantic dishes.

    Silky Chocolate Fondue

    Nothing says, “I love you” like double chocolate fondue, especially when it’s made with dark chocolate, known to contain beneficial antioxidants. Dip and swirl your way to your loved one’s heart with fresh berries, bananas and sweet fat-free angel food cake. If you don’t have a fondue pot, serve in a mini-crock pot or in a bowl over a saucepan of warm water.

    Makes about 2 cups

    1 cup 2% chocolate milk
    12 oz. dark chocolate (60 - 65% cacao), chopped
    3 Tbs. light agave nectar
    1 tsp. vanilla extract

    1. Heat milk in a saucepan over medium heat until it just begins to simmer. Remove from heat, add chocolate and whisk until chocolate is smooth and silky. Whisk in agave and vanilla.

    2. Pour into fondue pot or mini-crock pot and enjoy immediately.

    Fondue Flavor Variations

    • Add 2 to 3 Tbs. of your favorite liqueur, like Frangelico, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Creme de Menthe, Grand Marnier, Amaretto or Chambord.
    • Add 1 tsp. cinnamon and a pinch of ground cayenne or ancho chile pepper for Mexican-style fondue.
    • Mix 1 tsp. espresso powder with 2 Tbs. water and stir it into the fondue.

    Low-Fat Dippables

    • Strawberries, Raspberries and Bananas
    • Dried Apricots
    • Crystallized Ginger
    • Pretzels
    • Graham Crackers
    • Marshmallows
    • Meringue Cookies
    • Biscotti
    • Angel Food Cake

    PER SERVING (1/4 cup fondue): 195CAL; 3G PROT; 9G TOTAL FAT (4G SAT. FAT); 26G CARB; 3MG CHOL; 27MG SOD; 3G FIBER; 70G SUGARS

    Honey Balsamic Salmon with Creamy Spinach Saute

    Impress your valentine with this easy-to-make entree of glazed salmon and creamy spinach. No one needs to know that it’s healthy too; salmon contains heart smart omega-3s and spinach is a good source of vitamin A, iron and dietary fiber. Use leftover honey-balsamic glaze for vegetables, like roasted sweet potatoes or asparagus.

    Serves 2

    1/4 cup honey
    2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
    2 6-oz. salmon fillets (wild, if available)
    6 oz. baby spinach leaves
    2 Tbs. Earth Balance Buttery Spread or olive oil
    1 garlic clove, minced
    1/4 cup 2% milk
    3 Tbs. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for garnish
    pinch of grated nutmeg
    1 lemon, zested and sliced into wedges
    salt and black pepper to taste

    1. Preheat oven to 450F.

    2. Stir together honey and balsamic vinegar in a saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until thick and syrupy, about 5 to 7 minutes. Keep warm.

    3. Sprinkle salmon fillets with salt and place on a baking sheet. Roast 8 minutes, until opaque, remove salmon from the oven and turn oven to broil. Brush salmon with honey-balsamic glaze and broil 1 to 2 minutes, until caramelized.

    4. While salmon roasts, heat Earth Balance or olive oil in a saut? pan over medium-low heat Add garlic and cook 1 to 2 minutes, until softened. Be careful not to burn. Turn heat to medium high and add spinach. Stir to coat evenly. When the spinach wilts, push it to the sides of the pan. Pour the milk in the center of the pan. When it starts to bubble, stir in the cheese and nutmeg. Stir the spinach and the creamy sauce together. Season with salt and pepper.

    5. Serve spinach garnished with lemon zest and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve the salmon with a wedge of lemon.

    PER SERVING: 485CAL; 47G PROT; 22G TOTAL FAT (5G SAT. FAT); 24G CARB; 85MG CHOL; 234MG SOD; 4G FIBER; 17G SUGARS

    Forest Mushroom Pate

    Indulge your desire for a rich tasting appetizer with our better-for-you version of classic duck liver pate. Earthy mushrooms combine with toasted walnuts and just enough cream cheese and tangy Jarlsberg to create an appetizer that’s sure to woo your valentine. Enjoy paired with a bold red wine, like Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon.

    Serves 8

    1/2 cup walnuts
    2 Tbs. Earth Balance Buttery Spread or olive oil
    1 lb. assorted mushrooms (white button, cremini, shiitake, and portobello)
    2 shallots, finely chopped
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1 Tbs. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
    3 Tbs. dry sherry
    3 Tbs. chopped Italian parsley
    2 Tbs. lemon juice
    4 oz. light cream cheese, softened
    1/3 cup shredded light Jarlsberg cheese
    Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (about 1/2 tsp. salt and 2 tsp. pepper)

    1. Preheat oven to 350F.

    2. Spread walnuts on a baking sheet and bake 5 to 7 minutes, until toasted (be careful not to burn).

    3. Heat Earth Balance in a skillet over medium heat; add garlic, shallots and mushrooms. Cook about 10 minutes, until mushrooms are soft and the excess liquid has evaporated. Stir in thyme. Turn up heat and add sherry. Remove from heat.

    4. Place walnuts, saut?ed mushrooms, parsley, lemon juice, cream cheese and Jarlsberg in a food processor. Pulse until just mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste.

    5. Spread into a ramekin or bowl, cover and refrigerate 2 to 3 hours.

    6. Garnish with thyme and chopped walnuts and serve with toasted walnut, rosemary or olive artisan bread.

    PER SERVING: 135CAL; 6G PROT; 9G TOTAL FAT (2G SAT. FAT); 5G CARB; 7MG CHOL; 98MG SOD; 1G FIBER; 1G SUGARS

  • Omega-3s and your health

    Recent Omega-3 research:

    Omega-3s may protect against traumatic brain injury
    January 2011, Neurosurgery

    Omega-3s may reduce gum disease
    October 2010, American Journal of Dietetic Association

    Krill oil may reduce arthritis symptoms
    September 2010, BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders

    Omega-3s' anti-inflammatory mechanism revealed
    September 2010, Cell

    Every day, researchers are finding more links between low levels of omega-3 fatty acids and certain health conditions. A recent study, done by Harvard University and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, determined that there were 72,000-96,000 preventable deaths each year due to omega-3 deficiency. Here’s how fish oil can be an important addition to your life.

    How fatty acids work: There’s a simple reason why fish oil is thought to be so good for you: It’s rich in the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA, required structural components of every single cell in the human body. The human body cannot make EPA and DHA, however. They must be consumed in our diets.

    EPA and DHA work together, but each has its own unique benefits. EPA is thought to reduce inflammation, improve cardiovascular and circulatory health, and can be beneficial for those suffering with autoimmune or inflammatory disorders. DHA is important for brain, nerve and eye cells, and can support cognition, fetal and infant development, pregnancy and combat depression.

    Fish vs. flax Research shows that flax is a less efficient source of EPA and DHA. While flax contains another omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), our bodies can convert only a small percentage of it to EPA and DHA. (Read more about when to choose fish or flax.)

    Dosing: Remember that dosage, freshness and purity are keys to maximizing the benefits of fish oil. Fresh fish oil ensures that you get optimal results—rancid oil can cause free radical damage and may not be assimilated into the body as well. And pure fish oil can protect you from toxins such as PCBs or heavy metals.

    For general maintenance, most practitioners recommend a daily dose of about 500 mg of EPA and DHA. The British Nutrition Foundation Task Force suggests as much 1000–1500 mg/day, the American Heart Association 1000 mg for those with documented heart disease and the American Psychiatric Association 1000 mg for individuals with mood disorders.

    For more information:
  • Meditation good for heart health

    In doing some research for a new article on the link between stress and heart health, we found this great study on the effects of meditation on the body. The study, done in Thailand in 1991, is an oldie but a goodie: it included 20-something men who either practiced Dhammakaya Buddhist meditation or didn't. The result? The meditating men saw significantly reduced cortisol levels and blood pressure, all good for keeping your heart calm and healthy.

    Want to learn more about good heart health? Visit your local Pharmaca in February for our Healthy Heart Events (click for individual store dates). Get cholesterol tests, practitioner consultations and great product samples.

  • The Oral Health-Heart Health Connection

    healthy smilesDuring Healthy Heart month we've been talking a lot about cardiovascular health and the best way to reduce your risks. But there's another unusual heart-health issue that might not be on the top of your mind—your oral health.

    A 2004 study in the journal Circulation found that adults who have significant levels of bacteria related to periodontal disease are also predisposed to have thicker carotid arteries, a condition that is a strong predictor of heart attack and stroke.

    The study measured 11 different strains of bacteria, of which four are widely believed to be a source of periodontal disease. The presence of these four bacteria was connected with the thicker carotid, leading researchers to believe that there is some connection between a tendency toward periodontal disease and higher risk of heart problems.

    While researchers are still unsure about the exact connection, studies have shown that the bacteria that cause periodontal disease is involved in a number of health issues, including pre-term of low birth-weight babies, diabetes and respiratory infections.

    So what can you do to protect yourself from periodontal disease? We spoke with Dr. Ashleigh Putnam, naturopathic doctor at our Monterey store, about keeping bad bacteria in check.

    "I really like Herb Pharm's Oral Health Tonic," says Dr. Putnam. "It includes thyme and cinnamon, which are naturally antibacterial." Just place a dropperful in a glass of water and swish. Another way to get kill harmful bacteria: rinse with a cool cup of rosemary and peppermint tea.

    Dr. Putnam also says to make sure you're getting xylitol in your mouthwash or gum. "People like mouth rinses from the Natural Dentist, which include xylitol and spearmint oil," she says. "Those two are beneficial for any type of infection." Or try Spry Chewing Gum, which features xylitol and comes in a variety of refreshing flavors.

    Finally, she recommends applying probiotics (like Pharmax HLC Maintenance) directly to the gums. "Open up a capsule and swish it around," she says. Just like in your gut, "The good bacteria impede the bad bacteria." She adds that you can even swallow it when you're done to reap the benefits in your digestive system.

    For more information on oral and cardiovascular health, speak with a Pharmaca practitioner today.

  • 5 Fast Facts About Red Yeast Rice

    1. When the yeast Monascus purpureus is cultured on rice, a series of compounds are created that slow the production of cholesterol in the liver. One of these compounds is the active ingredient used in the popular cholesterol medications called statins.

    2. The use of red yeast rice in China was first documented in the Tang Dynasty in 800 A.D. It is still used today in Chinese medicine, as well as in culinary creations. In fact, Peking Duck owes its signature red hue to this dietary staple.

    3. Since the 1970s, studies have shown that red yeast rice lowers total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Research conducted in June of 2009 that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed a 20% reduction in unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels with red yeast rice supplementation alongside diet and lifestyle changes.

    4. Clinical tests have shown that red yeast rice supplements are great for patients who can’t tolerate statins due to muscle problems. However, this supplement should not be taken by those who are on statins (e.g. Lipitor), macrolide antibiotics (e.g. erythromycin), antifungal drugs (fluconazole), high dose niacin, or warfarin. Pregnant women and anyone under the age of 20 should also avoid this supplement.

    5. Pharmaca offers red yeast rice supplements from highly regarded manufacturers including Pharmaca's own brand, Bluebonnet, Solaray and Thorne. Speak with one of our licensed practitioners to learn more about which product is right for you.

  • Lower Stress, Healthier Heart

    By now you’ve heard it all—boost your heart health with omega-3s and CoQ10, keep your cholesterol low, watch your blood pressure. Even if you’re vigilant about taking the right supplements and watching what you eat, there’s another major factor in your heart health: stress.

    “When we’re under stress our heart rate increases, our blood pressure goes up and we secrete cortisol,” says Erin Stokes, naturopathic doctor at our South Boulder store. “All of that can be hard on your cardiovascular system.”

    Indeed, a 2010 study at the University of Western Ontario showed that increased cortisol levels, a good marker of chronic stress, were directly correlated to a higher incidence of heart attacks. So how to keep cortisol in check?

    “Meditation, getting adequate sleep and proper nutrition are all essential,” says Erin. “But you may also want to consider working on replenishing your adrenal glands.”

    When we experience the fight-or-flight response, which often happens as we drive busy roads or come up against tight deadlines at work, the adrenals secrete cortisol. Over time they become depleted, and the result is not only a feeling of exhaustion, it’s also stress on the cardiovascular system. “In this day and age almost all of us have some level of adrenal fatigue,” says Erin.

    To lower the physiological effects of stress, she first recommends some long-term adrenal support in the form of Ashwaganda, and especially likes Gaia Herbs organic formulation that offers quick delivery to your system. Another formula is Vital Adapt from Natura, which she likes because it supports the adrenals, the thyroid, and the nervous system all at once. For moderate levels of stress, these formulations can help relieve symptoms of adrenal fatigue in just a few weeks. For people experiencing more intense chronic stress, it could take months.

    That’s why it’s also good to look for short-term help. “Sometimes when people are working on adrenal health they need support in the moment,” says Erin. That’s when she recommends supplements that can help reduce situational anxiety. For example, for people experiencing panic attacks, Erin usually recommends GABA. For more low-grade anxiety, L-Theanine is a better fit. She also really likes the Emotional Ally formulation from WishGarden Herbs. Ultimately, it’s best to speak with a Pharmaca practitioner about your symptoms so they can help you find the right support.

    Of course, it doesn’t hurt to slow down once in awhile, too. A 1991 study from Thailand found that men who practiced Dhammakaya Buddhist meditation had much lower cortisol levels, lower blood pressure and higher stress reaction time than those who did not meditate. Seems like all of our hearts could use a little om.

    Speak with a Pharmaca practitioner about heart-health-boosting supplements, stress-relieving herbs and all the other ways to support your heart.

  • Statins 101

    Cholesterol is a wax-like, fatty substance needed by the body for the production of bile acids, provitamin D3, male and female sex hormones, adrenal hormones and membranes that surround cells. It’s also essential for brain and nerve functions.

    But not all cholesterol is good. The body’s total cholesterol is made up of both HDL (good) and LDL (bad) cholesterol. A total cholesterol count that is higher than 240 mg/dL or an LDL level greater than 130 mg/dL represents a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

    If you fall into one of those categories, your doctor might prescribe statins like Lipitor, Zocor, Pravachol or Crestor to lower your cholesterol. Statins help reduce LDL levels and can also help increase HDL levels, thereby reducing overall risk. About 60 percent of women and 75 percent of men over age 65 were prescribed these medications in 2002 according to the most recent data available from the National Center for Health Statistics.

    Statins can cause unpleasant side effects like muscle and joint pain, nausea and potential liver damage. However, the advantages outweigh the risks in most cases. Additional benefits include reducing inflammation and lowering blood pressure, plus new research is exploring the ability of statins to prevent arthritis, cancer and reduce the possibility of dementia.

    Other available prescription treatments for high cholesterol include bile acid binding resins, cholesterol absorption inhibitors and niacin. Speak with your doctor about the best option based on your individual risk profile. Our pharmacy staff will provide a full consultation when you fill any prescription with us.

  • Healthy Heart Supplements: Pharmaca's Favorites

    Properly caring for your heart can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease—the leading cause of death in the U.S. While the American Heart Association’s year end update shows an approximately 30% decline in mortality rates due to heart disease since 1999, the data does not look as rosy when it comes to controlling risk factors.

    Living a healthy lifestyle, such as eating well, exercising regularly and avoiding smoking, is the most important way to protect your heart. However, supplementing a well-balanced diet with vital nutrients can have additional benefits. Nancy Brillault, a certified herbalist at the Carlsbad Pharmaca, shares her top five heart health supplements.

    Both EPA and DHA are types of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil that help keep blood triglyceride levels in check and help lower elevated blood pressure. If you aren’t eating several servings of fatty fish each week, your diet may be lacking important omega-3s. Nancy recommends taking 1000–2500 mg for maintenance and 3000–5000 mg for a therapeutic dose. Her favorite brand is Nordic Naturals because it is produced with sustainable fishing methods, and exceeds the stringent European pharmacopoeia standard (EPS).

    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. Nancy is a huge fan of New Chapter’s formula because it is fermented to be more bioavailable in the body. She also recommends pairing a CoQ10 supplement with d-ribose, since they work together to provide cellular energy.

    L-carnitine is used by the body to release energy stored in fat. It has potential therapeutic uses for heart health, like easing the symptoms of angina, reducing damage when taken soon after a heart attack, and lowering blood triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels. Ask one of our practitioners about Jarrow’s professional grade L-carnitine formula.

    Magnesium is an essential mineral that is often depleted in those who take diuretics or laxatives, use alcohol, or have heart problems. Taking 200–300 mg of this mineral supplement twice a day helps reduce exercise-induced chest pain. Scientific studies have also shown benefits of magnesium supplementation for those with cardiac arrhythmia and congestive heart failure. Ionic Fizz by Pure Essence is Nancy’s favorite source since it works very quickly for an immediate effect.

    Hawthorn extract is an age-old heart tonic that has been shown to lower blood pressure and improve circulation. Nancy recommends the formula created by Gaia Herbs whose products are organically grown on a farm in North Carolina.

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