Tag Archives: heart health

  • Great Reasons to Love Garlic

    Garlic, also known as Allium sativum, has been around for centuries. Legend says it was found in Egyptian pyramids and ancient Greek temples as an offering to the Gods. And Hippocrates, considered the father of Western medicine, was said to have used garlic to treat cancerous tumors, pneumonia, digestive disorders, as a diuretic and for infections.

    Both cherished and sought for its healing powers, garlic is still being promoted as a health food with numerous therapeutic benefits. Raw, crushed garlic is both antibacterial and antiviral due to the presence of allicin, which has been shown to kill more than 20 types of bacteria.

    Garlic is also known to have cardiovascular benefits because it helps lower blood triglycerides and total cholesterol. The compound diallyl disulphide-oxide, found in heated or cooked garlic, has also been shown to lower serum cholesterol by preventing clotting in the arteries.

    Garlic’s antioxidant vitamins and sulfur-containing compounds help protect against oxidative stress and inflammation, which can stimulate the body to fight carcinogens and may even aid in preventing certain types of cancer, such as stomach cancer. Garlic's sulfur compounds have also been shown to regulate blood sugar metabolism, detoxify the liver and stimulate blood circulation. (Explore Pharmaca's garlic supplements now!)

    Cooking with garlic
    Let’s start with the basics:

    • Store in a cool, dark place (though not a refrigerator); garlic can be kept for several weeks.
    • Cooking garlic decreases the strength of its flavor, making it much milder than raw garlic. For a mild flavor, add whole cloves to food while it cooks or marinates, and then remove before serving (although I personally can’t imagine removing the garlic once is has become soft, creamy and delicious!). When sautéing garlic, be careful not to cook it too long at a high temperature, as it will brown very quickly and become bitter and unusable.  
    • The more finely garlic is chopped, the stronger its flavor will be.
    • Remove garlic odor from your hands by rubbing them with salt or lemon juice and then washing them with soap.
    • Get rid of garlic breath by chewing on a bit of fresh parsley (or better yet, make sure everyone near you has eaten their fair share of garlic, too!)

    Simple ways to add garlic into your diet:

    • Flavor soups, stews and casseroles
    • Roast with meats, fish, poultry and vegetables
    • Chop finely and add raw to salad dressings
    • Bake whole heads until softened and spread on bread

    Quick and Easy Hummus Recipe


    • 1 16 oz can of chickpeas or garbanzo beans
    • 1/4 cup liquid from can of chickpeas
    • Juice from 1 or 2 lemons*
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons tahini paste (sesame seed paste)
    • 1-2 cloves raw garlic, crushed*
    • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil


    Drain chickpeas, reserving the liquid and a few whole chickpeas for garnish. Combine remaining ingredients in blender or food processor. Blend for 2 minutes on low and then add the reserved liquid until thoroughly mixed and smooth.

    Place in serving bowl, and create a shallow well in the center of the hummus.

    Add a small amount (1-2 tablespoons) of olive oil in the well and garnish with parsley and the reserved whole chick peas.

    Hummus can be served immediately or covered and refrigerated. Hummus can be used for dipping with fresh or toasted pita, sliced vegetables or as a spread for sandwiches or wraps.

    *The amount of garlic and lemon juice can be adjusted according to your personal taste. If you are new to using raw garlic, you may want to start with just one clove, as the flavor can become stronger as the hummus sits.


    Add a dash of red chili pepper or cayenne pepper for a spicier hummus
    Top with roasted red bell peppers or finely chopped green olives
    Add cooked, chopped spinach for added iron

    Sharon Wegner is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, Nutritional Consultant and member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. Sharon teaches her clients how to make healthier food and lifestyle choices by creating simple and sustainable changes. She shares her passion for cooking with her clients by teaching them how to make fresh and delicious REAL food. For more healthy recipes and to find out more about her work visit her at Essentials for Healthy Living blog.

    Creative Commons License photo credit: jasleen_kaur

  • The Healthy Benefits of Omega-3s

    The reported health benefits of omega-3s keep piling up—from boosting heart health to improving memory and concentration. Omega-3s are considered “essential” fatty acids because our body needs them for a variety of bodily functions. Since we can’t make them on our own, however, we must get them through diet or supplementation. The two main omega-3s are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are found most commonly in coldwater fish, but are also present in oils from algae, plants and flaxseed.

    Despite their “essential” label, many people are still deficient in omega-3s, and this deficiency has been cited as one of the top 10 causes of preventable death in the US among dietary, lifestyle and metabolic risk factors.

    Here are some of the most well-researched benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.

    Cardiovascular health
    Omega-3s have more scientific research backing their benefits for cardiovascular health than any other nutritional supplement. Strong evidence—thousands of clinical trials, in fact—suggest that EPA and DHA enhance overall cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol, high blood pressure and elevated triglycerides. The American Heart Association even recommends that people with coronary heart disease get 1 g each of EPA and DHA per day.

    Omega-3s also seem to reduce the risk of recurring heart attacks and abnormal heart rhythms in people who have already had a heart attack. In addition, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, large population studies have shown that people getting significant amounts of omega-3s in their diets have a 50 percent lower risk of stroke.

    Alzheimer’s and Dementia
    Recent research has shown that omega-3s may slow cognitive decline and reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. In a study published in May in the journal Neurology, researchers found that people who consumed the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids had the lowest levels of beta-amyloid plaque buildup, a marker in the brain for dementia and Alzheimer’s.

    According to the Mayo Clinic, omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in brain function. Because people with depression may have lower levels of EPA and DHA—important brain chemicals—they can benefit from supplementing with the EPA and DHA found in fish oil. It has also been shown that cultures that consume more omega-3 rich foods have generally lower incidences of depression.

    Prenatal health
    It is widely know that the EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids are vital for healthy infant development, especially for the eyes, nervous system and brain. In addition, supplementing with fish oil during pregnancy has been found to reduce the rate of respiratory illness in infants (according to a study published last year in the journal Pediatrics).

    Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, MD, member of Pharmaca’s Integrative Health Advisory Board, recommends 200-300 mg of DHA starting in the 25th week of pregnancy (learn more about her prenatal nutrition recommendations).

    Rheumatoid arthritis
    A number of small studies have found that fish oil helps reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including joint pain and stiffness. A 2007 article in the journal Pain analyzed studies that tested the effects of omega-3s on pain and inflammation and showed that by taking omega-3s, patients were able to lower their doses of prescription anti-inflammatory medications and experienced a decrease in pain.

    Dr. Tori Hudson, ND, and member of Pharmaca’s Integrative Health Advisory Board, highly recommends omega-3 fatty acids for her patients experiencing any kind of joint pain.

    Explore our selection of omega-3 fish oils either in store or at pharmaca.com.

  • 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.

  • Yoga's Proven Health Benefits

    Here's some great news about yoga to take with you for the weekend--turns out it's been clinically shown to be effective in treating a variety of health issues, from stress and depression to back pain.

    This is the first in a series of educational videos we'll be posting from members of our Integrative Health Advisory Board. Here's Dr. Brad Jacobs, MD, talking about all the reasons yoga should be a part of your life.

  • 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 Pharmaca: 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.

  • 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)!

  • 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

  • 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.

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