The Best Supplements for Heart Health

Supplements

Living a healthier lifestyle is the best way to prevent or manage heart disease.  But who couldn’t use a little assist?  There is growing evidence that supplements can help you obtain greater cardiovascular health. 

So which ones should you take?  Start with the ones’ that are well researched and have demonstrated benefits for heart health.  Using this approach, I have arrived at the following daily regimen:

  1. Fish Oil – The most recommended supplement for heart health.  Fish oil contains Omega-3 fatty acids.  Omega-3s help reduce risk factors for heart disease including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high levels of triglycerides and inflammation in the body.  Go with a high-quality brand such as Nordic Naturals.
  2. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) – This enzyme occurs naturally in the body and helps convert food to energy.  Research shows the CoQ10 helps with heart-related conditions because it improves energy production in cells, prevents blood clot formation, and acts as an antioxidant.  Statins interfere with the production of CoQ10 so if you are on one, you should definitely ask your doctor about supplementing.  Almost a no brainer.
  3. L-Carnitine – Carnitine helps the body turn fat into energy.  It also acts as an antioxidant, fighting those crazy free radicals in your body.  Free radicals damage cells and mess with DNA.  The Mayo clinic has weighed in on this one and found that L-Carnitine can reduce mortality, abnormal heart rhythms and angina development in patients experiencing a heart attack.
  4. D-Ribose – Ribose is a carbohydrate the body uses to create adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP warrants a post by itself, but in a nutshell, ATP is the fuel for our body.  It’s this fuel is what allows muscles to contract, or in the case of the heart PUMP!  Sounds pretty important to me.
  5. Magnesium – All your organs, but especially your heart, need magnesium to function properly.  Magnesium has been shown to help maintain normal heart rhythms, lower the risk of congestive heart failure, and lower the death rates for those who have already had a heart attack.   Magnesium also helps with sleep, an important contributor to heart health.
  6. Multi-Vitamin – There is growing evidence that Vitamins D and B have heart health benefits.  I take a multi-vitamin from Inspired Nutrition that provides enough of these two vitamins plus a whole slew of heart healthy ingredients such as garlic, green tea, and resveratrol.  The folks at Inspired Nutrition really understand the relationship between nutrients and disease management.  I suggest you check out some of their other products as well.

I truly feel the benefits from these supplements.  I have increased energy levels, am able to exercise more, have less fatigue, have less muscle pain and cramping, and I even get a better nights sleep.

References:

“Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide.” University of Maryland Medical Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Sept. 2014.

Mayo Clinic review links L-Carnitine to multiple heart health benefits, By Oliver Nieburg+, 23-Apr-2013

Photo credit: veo_ / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

There are affiliate links in this post.

Why I Am Volunteering With Mended Hearts

mendedheartsWhen I was in the hospital recovering from bypass surgery, a volunteer from an organization called Mended Hearts paid a visit to my room.  This was seven years ago and I was a little pumped up on morphine, so I don’t remember the name of the person or even what we talked about.

I do remember that he gave me a pillow that I was to hold against my chest if I needed to cough or laugh.  Doing either of those activities after open-heart surgery can be quite painful.   I made good use of the pillow, but put the name of my visitor and the organization out of my mind up until recently.

I forgot Mended Hearts because I wanted to forget about Mended Hearts.  I was pretty sure I could handle cardiac recovery on my own.  Honestly, I was young and incredibly gifted with street smarts.  What could go wrong?  Besides, I didn’t need help from some old guy!

Time to Give Back

A few weeks ago, I contacted Mended Hearts to inquire about volunteering.  So what is Mended Hearts?  I have taken the following description from the their website:

Our support groups help people understand that there can be a rich, rewarding life after heart disease diagnosis. Members listen, share their experiences and volunteer to talk to other heart patients about what they may face including lifestyle changes, depression, recovery, and treatment.

Mended Hearts volunteers offer peer-to-peer support to patients, family members and caregivers via:

  • Hospital Visiting – In person visit from a Mended Hearts volunteer while you are recovering
  • Online Visiting – Email check in and provide materials electronically
  • Phone Visiting – Calling to provide a word of hope

Our mission is to “inspire hope in heart disease patients and their families.”

This past Saturday I met with one of the coordinators and attended my first Mended Hearts support group meeting.  It was good to be among “my people”.  Over the next several months, I will get a few training sessions before I am fully qualified to begin my volunteer duties.

A big reason I started this blog was to fill an information and support gap for “younger” cardiac patients.  My motivation for volunteering with Mended Hearts is to connect with this same demographic.  I think this is a great organization and I am excited to get started.

My Heart Attack Anniversary – 7 Years Later

Me at the Beach

I missed a very important anniversary last week.  July 1st marked 7 years since my cardiac arrest, heart attack and bypass. As the author of a heart attack blog, it’s a little odd that I missed my own anniversary.  On the other hand, I was at the beach enjoying time with my family.  Celebration enough.

Se7en

No, I won’t be writing about the seven deadly sins – maybe what led to my heart attack.  Instead,  a quick post to highlight the 7 things I am most grateful for on this lucky anniversary:

  1. Being alive
  2. Having a wonderful family
  3. Having great friends
  4. Having a healthy lifestyle
  5. Having the ability to relax
  6. Having a job that provides for my family and I
  7. Having the experience of death

I didn’t put a lot of thought into this list and number 7 may seem a little strange.  I am sure it will evolve and grow over time – at least to 8 by this time next year. That’s it for now – Paul

Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Relax

Hammock_relaxLife is full of stress.  Before my cardiac arrest and heart attack, my primary two methods of stress reduction were smoking and drinking.  It was the perfect one-two punch.  Smoking, the constant jab, providing immediate stress relief. Drinking, the knockout punch for total relaxation.  My one-two punch served me fairly well for twenty-odd years, only to be derailed by a cardiac arrest.  I was no longer allowed in the ring!  Stick with me and I will show you how I am dealing with stress and even getting better sleep.

Before my event, I knew that my unhealthy lifestyle was not going to lead to a pleasant outcome.  After all, both my father and brother suffered heart attacks before 40.  So how did I deal with the stress of my gloomy cardiac fate?  See one-two punch above.  That’s right, more smoking and drinking!

And then BAM!  Cardiac arrest, heart attack, dead – the Triple Lindy!  As moronic as it sounds, I felt a sense of relief when I ended up in the hospital.  I could now get on with the rest of my life. However, the uncertainty regarding the rest of my life brought on new stress.  Will I fully recover, will I be well enough to support my family, will I be around to see my children grow up?  I have a great cardiologist and he put things into perspective for me.  I can’t remember the exact words, but he advised to put the trauma behind me and live my life as fully as possible.  I could worry about every ache, pain, or what if – or I could go enjoy life.

Do the Right Thing

I still needed to find a way to reduce stress and relax in general.  I considered aromatherapy, but found that just doing the right thing allows me to relax best.  So how does one do the right thing:

  • Act in a respectable and responsible way.  I’m trying. Acting respectable is a challenge.
  • Take ownership for my health and actions.  I do this most of the time.  Exercise has proved a solid replacement for smoking and drinking
  • Have some humility.  I’m trying.  It’s hard when you are the center of the universe.

Again, try and keep it simple.  Don’t be a jerk, do what you’re supposed to do, and get over yourself.

Sleep

Studies have shown the poor sleep can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.  And, cardiovascular disease can decrease the quality of your sleep.  A vicious circle that I have been trying to solve for years.

You would think with all the simplification, healthy eating, and daily exercise, I would be stress free and sleeping like a baby.  Sadly, not true.  I have made progress with reducing stress, but I could use some improvement in the sleep department.  I can fall asleep, I just can’t stay asleep.  I average about six hours per night. If you remember back to Part 1 of this series, I introduced you to Leo Babauta and his Zen Habits site.   On his site, Leo provides a formula for sleeping like a baby:

  1. Exercise – I do this, not sure I can do much more here.
  2. Get up early – I do this, up between 5-6 everyday.
  3. Establish a bedtime ritual – Doing this, but not in the best way.  I read my books on an iPad.
  4. Keep the bedroom only for sleeping – No TV in the bedroom.  Just that damn iPad.
  5. Focus your attention – I need to do this.
  6. Change slowly – OK.

I like that Leo admits he is still not a great sleeper. I also take a magnesium supplement and have installed f.lux on my laptop to assist with sleep.  Magnesium plays a role in sleep regulation and calming down your brain at night.  I have noticed that I fall asleep faster and get more restful sleep since starting the magnesium supplement.  F.lux makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.  I am not sure that it helps me sleep, but my eyes don’t get as strained at night.  I’ll keep it just for that.

That’s the plan.  Simplify your life, eat right, exercise, and relax.  You have a second chance at life.  Experiment, have some fun, and find what is going to keep you engaged and healthy.   Writing this series made me realize just how far I have come and how much I have changed.  I’d love to hear about how other have changed.  What’s your cardiac recovery plan and how’s it working?  Let me know in the comments below!

The full series of Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4

Photo credit: Joe Shlabotnik / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Get Off Your Ass

get_off_ass_2Dying isn’t hard, but it does provide a good lesson in humility. My cardiac rehab started with short walks on the high school track. I remember that first day I barely made it one lap. I was 41 years old and being lapped by speed walking retirees. I had to find a way to crush my competition! Stick with me, and I will show you the way.

I went for walks, either on the track or in the neighborhood, everyday. It’s amazing how quickly your body begins to gain strength and endurance. Within two months, I had progressed from 1 lap at the track to walking several miles at a time. I was eventually keeping pace with the retirees. At month three, I went back to work and the daily walks came to an end.

The daily walks ended, but I needed to find time to continue with an exercise routine.  In a rare moment of dedication, I decided to get up early a few days a week so I could continue my walks. Once I felt strong enough, and with the permission of my doctor, I graduated to light jogging on flat surfaces. Eventually, I built up to a four mile walk/run three to four times a week. Then, as usual, I lost interest.

In my next futile attempt at physical fitness, I joined a gym. I was going to get ripped! I even shelled out a bunch of money on a personal trainer. I didn’t like going to the gym and I didn’t like my trainer. I stuck with it for about a year, but I was miserable. I was paying good money for the inconvenience of traveling back and forth to gym to hang out with a bunch of lunkheads while getting no results. And it stunk. Gym experiment over.

Do Your Best, Forget the Rest

Back to the internet for more inspiration. Who did I run into, none other than Mr. Tony Horton. If you are not familiar with Tony Horton, he is the force behind the P90X series of home workouts. If you can make it past Tony’s cheesy infomercials, fabulous and perpetually dark hair, and bulging biceps, you will find a very effective program. Not only does it work, but in my opinion, is great for “younger” cardiac patients like myself.

P90X is what finally made me focus on diet AND exercise together. Instead of justifying my bad diet with more exercise, I finally saw the light. Diet and exercise needed to be worked together in order to achieve a healthy lifestyle and physical results. The basic P90X program:

  • Diet – The diet has three phases designed to burn fat and build muscle. I never followed it strictly but I hear it works.
  • Strength – A set of dumbbells or bands is required, but many of the routines incorporate a heavy dose of bodyweight strength training (push-up, pull-ups, etc.)
  • Fitness – There are a few cardio workouts and some pretty serious yoga mixed in throughout the program. The cardio is definitely intense and the Yoga will kick your ass.

I liked P90X so much I did it twice. I then went out and bought Insanity and P90X 2. If you can find a cardiologist that recommends Insanity, you should change doctors. I made it about halfway through and gave up. P90X2 is good for a change of pace, but I prefer the original. More recently, I have started Turbulence Training. I will describe that in a later post.

Modify, Modify, Modify

P90X is a commitment, at least an hour a day, six days a week for 90 days. I definitely needed the structure in the beginning. Today, I am doing a modified version of everything. By modified, I mean only the first half of each strength routine and no cardio. Here is what that looks like:

  • Monday – P90X workout & bike to work
  • Tuesday – Core workout or stretch & bike to work
  • Wednesday – P90X workout
  • Thursday – Core workout or stretch & bike to work
  • Friday – P90X workout

I usually leave the weekends unscheduled. If inspired, I may go for a run or bike ride, but that rarely happens.

Since I reduced the workouts, added the biking (15 miles round trip to work) AND started eating right, I have lost weight, put on muscle, improved my cardiovascular conditioning, and just feel better. I have read that 80% of conditioning is diet related. I finally believe that. Once I cut the bad carbs and sugar and focused on lean protein, vegetables, and healthy fats, everything just clicked.

What’s the point of all this? Find a program/system that works for you. If it’s not fun or convenient, you aren’t going to stick with it. Also, you don’t need to spend a ton of money or time. And of course, talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.

The full series of Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

Photo credit: The U.S. Army / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Stop Eating Crap

pick your poisonAfter  bypass surgery, I was discharged with a green light to eat whatever I liked because I was extremely weak and anemic. I needed the calories, protein, fat, and iron found in the typical crappy American diet. It seemed rather enabling, but who was I to argue with the doctor. I did enjoy my fatty meals and desserts, but I also knew it couldn’t last forever; I had to stop eating crap! This post explains how I made that happen.

Like most cardiac patients, I believed my biggest concern should be reducing cholesterol. It makes sense to start here since most of us ended up on an operating table as a result of clogged arteries. It is also an easy place to start since most of us are on a statin such as Lipitor and get an immediate assist.

Although I truly believe in the benefits of statins and will likely remain on one for life, I also have a problem with them. They give a false sense of security. How many times have you finished a huge steak covered in cheese sauce and said “I guess I will have to double up on the Lipitor tonight”.  Adorable, aren’t you?

You Are What You Eat

If this is true, I was eating moron. I would estimate that I ate about 75% healthy and 25% crap for a number of years after my event. I could make myself eat pretty well at breakfast and lunch. Evenings and weekends were another story. If you have young kids like me, you end up serving and eating a lot of mac & cheese, pizza, and ice cream. And as proof that I am not the most responsible person, I began to eat worse once I started exercising. I figured I was working out, I could eat whatever I like, right?

In fact, the answer is no. The American Heart Association provides the following as a basic guideline for diet and cardiac health:

  • Don’t intake mass quantities of calories
  • Eat a variety of nutritious foods including vegetables, unrefined whole grains, lean proteins, and fish.
  • Avoid nutrient-poor food

Sounds sensible, and it is. But it also sounds extremely boring and like something my mother would tell me. I have a long history of ignoring the good advice of my mother.

The Pretty Pig

I needed to put some lipstick on this ugly pig called eating right. I stumbled upon Tim Ferris’ blog while looking for ways to get rich by working four hours per week. Although I haven’t pulled that off (yet), I did find a lot of very useful information regarding diet.

I was drawn to the experiments Tim describes that test the relationship between food and exercise and the impact on weight and muscle gain. I tried a couple of his experiments and learned some interesting lessons along the way. For example, gorging and heavy weight lifting in your mid-forties produces fat not muscle (I gained 10 lbs of neck fat). Fun experiment, but not quite so effective (or attractive).

With my added neck fat in tow, I decided to see what Tim had on weight loss as opposed to muscle gain. I tried the slow-carb diet. On the slow-carb diet, you basically don’t eat anything processed or white – sugar, flour, dairy. You do eat a lot of that same meals (over and over again) that contain a combination lean protein, vegetables, and beans. And the best part, you get a cheat day once a week to eat whatever you like.

I had pretty good luck combining this diet with a regular exercise routine. I lost a few pounds, gained a little muscle, and felt overall more healthy. It also helps that you don’t have to be great cook on the slow-carb diet. On the flip side, egg whites, chicken, broccoli, and black beans gets pretty boring after a month or two.

Cardio Caveman

I followed the basic guideline of the slow-carb diet for quite awhile. The only difference being that I eventually was up to about three cheat days a week. Knowing I needed to get back on track, I went in search of a new program to keep me engaged.

I found the Paleo diet. The basic concept here is to mimic the diet of our prehistoric forefathers. Somehow, we know that there was very little cardiovascular disease back in the paleolithic days. Therefore, reverting back to a caveman lifestyle will lead to improved cardiovascular health. Stepping back in time is not a big stretch for a hairy backed dimwit such as myself. It’s probably this same dimwittedness that led me to try the diet ranked dead last on The U.S. News & World Report best diets list.

With that bad news aside, I can tell you that I really enjoyed the Paleo diet. The concept of Paleo is to eat meat (a lot of it) fish, vegetables, eggs, and healthy fats. Do not eat grains, sugars, most dairy, or any processed foods. Basically, if you can kill it or dig it up, you can eat it. Did I mention you get to eat bacon?

The inclusion of significant amounts of meat and eggs in the Paleo diet will scare many cardiac patients off. Maybe rightly so. I set out with the goal of 30 days for Paleo. Partly because of my short attention span, but also because I know there are healthier options out there. What I found over the 30 days is the following:

  • I lost 9 pounds
  • I had more energy
  • I really enjoyed the meals
  • I was never hungry
  • My back got hairier

My Cardio Diet Top 10

As you can see, I like to try new things. That might be a polite way of saying I can’t stick with anything. Regardless, I am motivated to eat more healthy. My experiments keep me entertained and help me maintain focus. When I take the bits and pieces from cardiac eating guidelines and my various experiments, I am left with my Cardio Diet Top 10:

  1. Eat lots of vegetables
  2. Eat some fruit
  3. Eat lean meats
  4. Eat fish
  5. Eat eggs
  6. Limit dairy
  7. Eat the right carbs (complex)
  8. Eliminate/reduce sugar
  9. Eliminate/reduce grains
  10. Don’t listen to me (I’m not a doctor)

The top ten works for me and provides a lot of options and variety. Remember, I am not recommending you go out and eat a lot of bacon. I am only recommending that you find a way to eat healthy. For me, it’s my little experiments.

If you are looking for your own heart-healthy diet programs, a good resource is the best heart-healthy diets on The U.S. News & World Report. My next program will focus on the Mediterranean diet. The benefits seem well established and the menu seems like something the whole family can enjoy.

The full series of Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

Photo credit: Scott Ableman / Foter /Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)