As February is deemed the month of LOVE at Content, we are shining the spotlight on the lifestyle factors that can help protect and ‘fix’ your precious heart.
Alarmingly, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF) in Britain and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC ) in America, nearly one on three men and women are being treated for high blood pressure. If your blood pressure is high, it puts extra strain on your arteries and heart, and if left untreated, it increases risk of stroke and heart attack. A diet which is high in coffee, sodium, alcohol, sugar and saturated fat can put you at risk hypertension predisposing you to heart disease. So, look after your heart - both emotionally and physically - with these tips....
Amongst others two of our favourites, Vitamin B and Vitamin C are high on our list for a healthy heart. Antioxidants are chemicals that can prevent or slow cell damage by fighting free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive and have the potential to cause damage to cells in your body. In relation to cardiovascular health, they are essential in preventing the formation of blood clots in arteries – a serious and potentially fatal medical condition.
Certain B vitamins are known to help to maintain normal heart function and prevent heart disease. Foods rich in B vitamins, particularly B12 and B6, are known to reduce the risk of death from stroke and heart problems.2 So, stock up on Vitamin B with fish, turkey and chicken, lean pork, lean beef, dried fruits, sunflower seeds and pistachio nuts. You can also support your regular diet by ingesting them as a food-state supplements. In fact, we regularly use The Synergy Company’s Super B Complex: a blend of eight B vitamins, which help support our metabolism and heart function.
Vitamin C is also important for cardiovascular health, as it is known to reduce high blood pressure and detoxify blood, as well as preventing degenerative diseases. Foods high in Vitamin C foods include bell peppers, dark leafy greens, broccoli, tomatoes, kiwis, peas and papaya. For an added boost of Vitamin C, try The Synergy Company’s Pure Radiance C: a vibrant, mix of organic natural C sources, including wild-crafted camu camu, acerola and rose hips.
Magnesium - Magnesium is a mineral that is crucial for heart health, yet often overlooked. It is necessary as it is a co-factor responsible for over 300 metabolic processes, including the action of your heart muscle. Studies have shown that magnesium intake can benefit your blood pressure, help prevent a sudden cardiac arrest, heart attack and stroke.1 So, being magnesium-deficient means that you could be more prone to a number of diseases. Symptoms of poor magnesium can include muscle cramps, facial tics, poor sleep and chronic pain. As magnesium is quickly depleted by the body through factors such as stress and processed foods and drinks it is important to replace it from foods such as whole grains, leafy green vegetables (especially spinach and broccoli), squash, seeds, and nuts. Other magnesium-rich foods are seeds (flaxseeds, pumpkin and sunflower), squash, legumes, avocado and banana. Almonds are also rich in magnesium, as well as Vitamin B and Vitamin E, so they make the perfect snack! At Content, we tend to reach for a tub of Sweet Virtues Chocolate Nut Butter in between meals, as it tastes delicious with fruit or raw crackers.
CO – Q10 - Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a compound, which is found in every cell of the body, but is especially concentrated in the heart, liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It is an important co-factor, as it ensures the proper function of many organs and our cells’ energy production. A powerful antioxidant, CoQ10 is able to help prevent and treat heart disease by keeping blood clots from forming. Recent findings show that taking Coenzyme Q10 greatly increases the survival rate of people with heart failure.3 However, as we age, our levels of CoQ10 also decrease. Other factors like smoking and illness also contribute to it, so it’s important to re-assimilate this. CoQ10 is naturally present in small amounts in a wide variety of foods, with particularly high levels in organ meats such as heart, liver, and kidney, as well as beef, soy oil, sardines, mackerel and peanuts. Other food sources are beef, chicken and oily fish. Additionally look to sesame oil, sesame seeds, peanuts, pistachios, broccoli, cauliflower, and strawberries are a supplement.
Polyphenols - natural plant compounds which are also known as the most abundant antioxidants in the human diet. Studies have shown that they can help prevent cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, clotting, inflammation and even cancer.4 Furthermore, a recent study found that these polyphenols may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by an impressive 46%.5 If you’re a berries fan, you’re in luck as dark grapes, bilberries, cherries, apples, dark plums, blackberries and blueberries are all rich in polyphenols. If you'd rather take them all at once, you can still get polyphenol benefits via natural supplements like the Pure Synergy Green Superfoods, which contain organic freeze-dried fruits and superfoods to protect and feed your cells.
Chocolate lovers will be delighted to know, that studies have shown that its daily consumption can reduce non-fatal heart attacks and stroke in people at high risk.6 This only applies to dark chocolate though. As avid cacao fans, we always have a stash of raw chocolate tucked away in our desk/purse/kitchen cabinet to curb our cravings. We’re loving the Raw Halo range of raw chocolate. Filled with superfoods and probiotics, they are nutritious as they are tasty!
Omega-3 - Omega-3 are polyunsaturated fatty acids, which rank amongst the most important essential nutrients out there. It is especially important for your heart health, as omega-3 fatty acids can help decrease the risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), which can lead to sudden cardiac death. Omega-3 fatty acids also decrease triglyceride levels and help lower blood pressure.
A study conducted on heart attack survivors found that patients supplementing with fish oils markedly reduced their risk of another heart attack, stroke, or death.7 In a separate study, researchers reported that men who consumed fish once or more every week had a 50 percent lower risk of dying from a sudden cardiac event than do men who eat fish less than once a month.8 For a healthy intake of omega-3, it is recommended you eat fish and preferably fatty fish at least twice a week. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in copious amounts in fatty fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel.
In supplement form, we like to drizzle some Terra Nova Organic Omega 3,6,7,9 Oil Blend into our meals and smoothies. It’s an organic blend of potent anti-inflammatory plant ingredients derived from Flaxseed, Hemp Seed, Olive Oil, Borage Seed Oi, Rice Bran Oil and Sea Buckthorn Oil. Alternatively take the Minami Omega 3 in capsule form daily.
Hawthorn - Hawthorn is a plant, with the leaves, berries and flowers being used in traditional medicine as a ‘cardiovascular tonic’. Research has shown hawthorn to have blood pressure-lowering activity, as well as antioxidant activity co-factor for vitamin C uptake, reduction of cholesterol and plaques in blood vessels. Essentially, hawthorn can help improve the amount of blood pumped out of the heart during contractions and widen the blood vessels.9 This means that it can help regulate heart muscle contractions to regulate heart-beat. Hawthorn is brimming with flavonoids, including a component called proanthocyanidin, which are known as powerful antioxidants, which help to counter effects of high cholesterol on the heart. You can find hawthorn in capsule format or as part of jam, jelly and wine. It's best to have herbal medicines prescribed by a qualified such as our very own Content Herbalist Jennifer Derham, as the dosage will vary according to each person. It’s especially advisable if you are taking other prescribed medications.
Bilberry - Bilberry is a plant. The dried, ripe fruit and leaves are used to make medicine. A study has shown that extracts from bilberry may prevent the build-up of plaques in the arteries, preventing hardening of the blood vessels and boosting overall heart health. 10
Herbalist Jennifer Derham says: "Bilberry is loaded with anthocyanins with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, shown to have a protective and restorative effect on the cardiovascular system generally. Studies show bilberry extracts to help protect the heart, have a beneficial effect on heart mitochondrial function, increase blood flow through the heart and prevent arrythmias. Traditionally used to treat varicose veins and poor venous flow, research has shown bilberry to help protect and repair capillaries and veins."
We love to drink it up in the form of herbal tea, created by Jennifer Derham herself: the Ministry of Herb Antioxidant Tea is a specially formulated blend containing the most potent antioxidant nutrients - including bilberry, hibiscus and rose petals - which have been shown to stimulate and support general health, help beat colds and infections and to have anti-ageing effects that promote healthy nails, skin, hair and joints.
Top Tips For Optimal Heart Health
- Switch Salts - Salt, often touted as the enemy, provides two elements that are essential for life and good health: sodium and chloride ions. Together, they maintain blood pressure, muscular activity and nerve conduction. Blood pressure is such a hot topic because it determines how hard our heart has to work! The trick is to switch to Himalayan salt, which has an abundance of trace minerals. The synergistic blend of nutrients that naturally occur in Himalayan salt can actually increase hydration and is a rich source of iodine- so it doesn’t need to be fortified. It is a wonderful seasoning for all cooking. Just be sure to steer away from table salt at all costs as it is higher in sodium and often contains aluminium as a preservative. The exquisite colour of Himalayan salt alone is bound to make your heart happy!
- Go Nuts - Substituting carbohydrates for activated nuts can decrease your risk of CVD (Cardio Vascular Diseases) by up to 30%. Nuts contain an amino acid L-arginine, a precursor of nitric oxide, which can improve blood flow. Look for raw, activated varieties with a light dusting of Himalayan salt.
- Very Berry - Besides being beneficial for almost all functions in the body, organic berries are superb for the cardiovascular system. Their phytochemical and antioxidant properties will help prevent oxidative damage to the heart. Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables also fall into this category. For additional support, a food based Vitamin C supplement can be beneficial. Camu camu or Gubinge powder are good options.
- Garlic - Increasing garlic consumption can greatly reduce inflammation and blood viscosity, thereby protecting the heart. Consuming two teaspoons daily can deliver an array of health benefits from enhanced detoxification and improved bowel flora. Be sure to crush the cloves before consumption to access the wonderful enzyme allinase.
Green Tea - Green tea is loaded with good nutrients like polyphenols and antioxidants, including the powerful EGCG (Epigallocatechin Gallate). While it has been a staple of Asian countries like Japan for centuries, in the past ten years, studies have finally prove the benefits of green tea linked to cardiovascular diseases. As such, it is known to rapidly improve the health of the delicate cells lining the blood vessels and helps lower one's risk of heart disease. In Japan, it has been found that participants who drank more than five cups of green tea a day had a 26% lower risk of death from heart attack or stroke and a 16% lower risk of death from all causes than people who drank less than one cup of green tea a day.11 All the more reasons to be swapping from black tea to green, pronto!
Hot Chocolate - Proving yet again that cacao is a superfood, studies have shown that the antioxidant concentration in hot cocoa is almost twice as strong as red wine.12 Cocoa's concentration is actually three times stronger than that of green tea and four to five times stronger than that of black tea. Hot cocoa is loaded with flavonoids that help your body process nitric oxide, meaning it help lower your blood pressure, improve blood flow and improve heart health. The flavonoids in hot chocolate also help prevent platelets in your blood from mingling together and forming clots. So, we’ll drink to that! For a hot chocolate drink with a twist, we’re fond of this hot chocolate recipe.
Exercise - Being active is important to prevent heart diseases and stroke. Cardiologists prescribe at least 30 minutes of daily moderate-intensity daily exercise: this could be anything, from climbing stairs to doing actual sports. Otherwise, 25 minutes of vigorous activity 3 days per week for 75 minutes, or high intensity activity per 2 days a week. Non-impact sports like swimming and skiing are also great for the heart, as well as weight-lifting, pilates and yoga. In the depths of winter, it’s easy to dismiss intense exercise, so why not try something like walking daily? For best impact on your heart and fitness, try alternate 3 minutes of normal walking with 1 minute at a faster pace. After all, interval training is the best way to prevent heart diseases and diabetes: this involves combining short bursts of high intensity exercise, with slightly longer active recovery periods. This is because raising and lowering your heart rate improves vascular function and clears fat and sugar from the blood in a more efficient way. So check out our list of some of our favourite places in London to be outdoors.
Meditate - Many of us will have heard about the wonderful effects that meditation has on our mood and overall wellbeing. But what about the effect it has on the heart? Studies have shown that taking just a few minutes each day to relax can significantly lower your risk of cardiovascular diseases. 13 Researchers found a whopping 48% reduction in the overall risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from any cause among members of the meditation group compared to those from the health education group. Meditation needn’t be daunting: a simple breathing exercise repeated daily can do wonders for your health. Try our How to Breathe Ritual with yoga teacher and wellness expert Jane Kersel.
Sleep - Night owls, beware. A study medical study found that short sleepers have a 48% increased risk of developing or dying from coronary heart disease (CHD) and a 15% greater risk of developing or dying from stroke during this same time.14 Doctors advise at least six hours’ sleep every night, with the ideal amount being 8 hours. We know this isn’t always possible, but making changes to your routine can begin with switching off all electric appliances (TV, computer, phone) one hour before bedtime to relax. We like the Tata Harper’s Bedtime Treatment , which will help you unwind into deep sleep. Get your beauty sleep!
1. Dietary magnesium intake and risk of stroke: a meta-analysis of prospective studies- December 28, 2011, doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.022376
2. Dietary Folate and Vitamin B6 and B12 Intake in Relation to Mortality From Cardiovascular Diseases. Japan Collaborative Cohort Study. Stroke, 2010; DOI:10.1161/STROKEAHA.110.578906
3. First drug to improve heart failure mortality in over a decade: coenzyme Q10 decreases all-cause mortality by half in randomized double blind trial, Eur Heart J. 2013 Aug;34(32):2496-7.
4. Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants in human health and disease, Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2009 Nov-Dec; 2(5): 270–278.
5. Inverse association between habitual polyphenol intake and incidence of cardiovascular events in the PREDIMED study. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2014 Jun;24(6):639-47. doi:
6. The effectiveness and cost effectiveness of dark chocolate consumption as prevention therapy in people at high risk of cardiovascular disease: best case scenario analysis using a Markov model. BMJ, 2012; 344 (may30 3): e3657 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e3657
7. Dietary supplementation with n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E after myocardial infarction: results of the GISSI-Prevenzione trial. Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Sopravvivenza nell'Infarto miocardico. Lancet. 1999 Aug 7;354(9177):447-55
8. Fish Consumption and Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death. 1998;279(1):23-28. doi:10.1001/jama.279.1.23.
9. The Effects of Hawthorn extract on Coronary Flow Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine 10/2013; 18(4):257-267. DOI: 10.1177/2156587213491428
10. Atheroprotective Effects of Bilberry Extracts in Apo E-Deficient Mice. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. doi: 10.1021/jf9035468
11. A green tea extract high in catechins reduces body fat and cardiovascular risks in humans. Obesity.(Silver Spring). 2007 Jun;15(6):1473-83.
12. Epicatechin mediates beneficial effects of flavanol-rich cocoa on vascular function in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Jan 24;103(4):1024-9. Epub 2006 Jan 17.
13. Stress Reduction in the Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease Randomized, Controlled Trial of Transcendental Meditation and Health Education in Blacks; 5: 750-758. Published online before print November 13, 2012, doi: 10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.112.967406
14. Sleep duration predicts cardiovascular outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies - European Heart Journal (2011) 32, 1484–1492. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehr007