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A Guide To Mens Health Supplements Part 3: Cardiovascular Health

What’s the leading cause of death in men? The answer has been the same for the last 40 years, cardiovascular disease.

1 in 5 people over the age of 40 will develop heart failure at some point in their lives, especially in men [2]. In fact, men are more than twice as likely to develop heart disease at some point in their lives than women. This may seem scary, but it needn’t be.

Read on to learn what you can do to stay healthy and prevent heart disease in your own body.

Additionally, testosterone puts men at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease than women. Researchers believe this is due to the effect testosterone has on cholesterol levels. [1].

Beyond critical lifestyle choices related to diet and exercise, there are a number of supplements you can take to strengthen your cardiovascular system and reduce the chances of developing cardiovascular disease.

Cholesterol & Cardiovascular Disease

There are two key markers (lipoproteins) for cholesterol in the body, LDL, and HDL. We call these markers “bad cholesterol” and “good cholesterol” respectively, but these markers are really just transport molecules for cholesterol itself.  These transport vehicles deliver cholesterol to different parts of the body as ‘appropriate.’

When LDL levels are high, it’s a good indicator that there is inflammation and damage in the cardiovascular system. The body builds cholesterol in the liver, and then sends it around the body using LDL to patch up damaged areas of blood vessels.

Over time, this can lead to the formation of plaques on the artery walls, which may eventually cause blockages of the arteries feeding the heart causing a heart attack. HDL, on the other hand, serves as a way for the body to collect cholesterol deposited in the body and returns it to the liver for processing.

At this point, the question you should be asking is:

“What causes inflammation and damage to the vascular system in the first place?”

Dysfunctional Insulin: The Driver Of Inflammation

One of the biggest causes of inflammation in the cardiovascular system is insulin, though not directly.

Insulin is an important hormone that shuttles blood sugars into the cells where it’s converted into energy.

When we eat  large meals, or meals with a lot of sugary or starchy foods, it forces insulin levels to spike. This happens so that the body can maintain a very particular blood sugar level– 4.0 to 5.4 mmol/L. Any less and we don’t have the energy to thrive, any more and it starts to cause damage and inflammation.

The body uses as much of this sugar as it needs and stores the rest as fat. If we don’t exercise enough, our demand for sugar is lower, causing there to be more excess which is stored as fat.

When insulin spikes too much, the body will eventually stop listening to it; also known as insulin resistance. This is when problems start to happen. We are no longer able to effectively control our blood sugar levels.

Ultimately, this inflammation brought on by dysfunctional blood sugar balance causes changes in cholesterol levels as the body tries to repair the damage caused to the arterial structures from high levels of insulin circulating in the blood.

In short:

  1. Eating too much sugary and starchy foods cause insulin levels to spike- think breads, cakes, pastries, pastas, and the like
  2. If this happens too often, the body stops listening to it, allowing blood sugar levels to rise out of control.
  3. Initially high insulin levels (later high sugar levels) then damage the arterial lining, triggering inflammation, and elevated cholesterol levels as it tries to patch the damaged spots.

Lowering Bad Cholesterol (LDL) and Raising Good Cholesterol (HDL)

In healthy individuals, HDL cholesterol will be on the higher end of the range, while LDL will be lower.

Lowering your chances of developing heart disease relies on lowering LDL and increasing HDL.

Since we know that LDL is used to patch up damaged areas of the cardiovascular system, the best way to lower it is to prevent this damage from occurring in the first place.

One of the most common causes of damage in the cardiovascular system is the presence of oxidative free radicals. We get these form our environment, our food, and as waste products from our cells.

Other causes of damage include nutrient deficiencies and dysfunctional fat metabolism.

While lifestyle modification is the primary lever in improving your health, you may also significantly benefit by including one or more of the following herbs in your daily supplement regimen.

Herbs & Supplements For Cardiovascular Health

1. Coleus (Coleus forskohlii)

Main benefits: Lowers blood pressure.

Coleus is a small herb, commonly used in gardens for its vibrant colored leaves.

It offers several distinct benefits for the cardiovascular system, especially on blood pressure. It works by inhibiting a molecule known as cyclic AMP (cAMP) which is involved in blood pressure regulation, heart contractility, and the formation of blood clots.

Key benefits of coleus on the heart:

  • Lowers blood pressure [4]
  • Inhibits blood clotting (platelet aggregation) [3, 5]
  • Improves the force each heartbeat produces (positive inotropism) [6]
  • Improves blood flow to the arteries feeding the brain and heart (coronary and cerebral arteries) [4, 7]
  • Promotes healthy fat metabolism [8]

Coleus is an excellent daily health supplement for aging men who want to bring their blood pressure closer to normal range and reduce the chances of developing serious cardiovascular disease later in life.

2. Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycantha)

Main Benefits: Improves blood flow to the heart to prevent heart attacks.

Ask any herbalist what the best herb for the cardiovascular system is and they will likely say  hawthorn. It’s a small, thorny tree often used in parks and residential landscaping.

There are now hundreds of different scientific studies, ranging from cell culture studies, to animal research all the way up to phase 3 clinical trials that support the use of this herb for cardiovascular disease.  Many of these studies have shown its benefit as both a preventative, and a treatment option for cardiovascular conditions like high blood pressure, coronary artery disease/angina, and high cholesterol.

One thought is that hawthorn benefits the cardiovascular system by making the blood more ‘slippery’ thus preventing it from getting stuck vascular branches and junctions where plaques tend to accumulate.

A large meta-analysis investigated 14 different clinical trials, involving 844 patients, found that patients suffering from cardiovascular disease who were treated with hawthorn extracts had a significant improvement in cardiovascular function overall [10].

This was later confirmed by a large clinical trial done in 2008 involving 2681 patients. The study found that patients treated with hawthorn extract had a 39.7% reduction in cardiac death after 2 years compared to the placebo control group [9].

3. Folate & B12

One of the major causes of cardiovascular disease is high-levels of an amino acid called homocysteine.

Most of the processes in our body go through cycles. Compounds are created, exert their effects, and are then either recycled or eliminated from the body.

Sometimes, these cycles become dysfunctional, and compounds are created effectively, but aren’t recycled or eliminated properly. One of the most common examples of this is homocysteine. High homocysteine levels in men result in a significant increase in cardiovascular risk.

This is a complex problem, with a simple solution; vitamins B9 (folate) and B12 (cobalamin).

Most B vitamins are used as drivers for chemical cycles in the body. They act as the factory workers on an assembly line building and breaking down various compounds. Homocysteine relies on vitamins B9 and B12 to be broken down and recycled.

B vitamins have a number of other important uses in the body, including:

  • Blood cell production
  • Energy metabolism
  • DNA repair
  • Neurotransmitter production
  • Protein synthesis
  • Fat metabolism

Due to the direct benefits B vitamins (especially folate and B12) have on the body, all men can benefit from a good daily B vitamin complex.

4. Ginkgo biloba

Main Benefits: Potent antioxidant, promotes longevity.

Ginkgo biloba is one of the oldest plant species on earth. It’s the last remaining member of its family, which is presumed to have existed as far back as 270 million years ago. It’s also known for its remarkably long lifespan, which has lead to its traditional use for promoting longevity.

Ginkgo is used to boost cardiovascular health. It’s been shown to prevent oxidative damage to the blood vessels, improve blood flow to the heart, and reduce the formation of blood clots [10]. Ginkgo also promotes blood flow to the periphery, including the hands, feet, and brain.

Ginkgo is a useful preventative treatment in men who have heightened blood pressure, but are not taking pharmaceutical blood thinners (such as Warfarin). It’s also useful for boosting libido and memory for men as they grow older.

5. Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Main benefits: Prevents hardening of the arteries, and lowers inflammation

There are 2 main forms of essential fatty acids; omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids.

These fatty acids are essential because the body doesn’t have the ability to make them itself. Therefore it needs to be obtained from the diet.

Although both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are crucial for human life, and play a role in numerous processes, including containing inflammation.

In a nutshell, the body uses omega 6 to produce proinflammatory chemical messengers. They go around the body to stimulate inflammation. Omega 3 on the other hand is used to produce anti-inflammatory messengers that go throughout the body to reverse inflammation. [12].

Ideal ratios of omega 6 to omega 3 is suggested to be 1:1, however, in the modern era this number is closer to 3:1 or even as high as 10:1. This means that turning ON inflammation is much easier than turning OFF inflammation.

This is important because inflammation is one of the key drivers for cardiovascular disease, and leads to the formation of cholesterol plaques associated with heart disease.

Studies have shown that daily omega 3 fatty acid supplementation can significantly reduce the chances of developing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and heart disease [12].

6. Gymnema sylvestre

Gymnema is a famous Indian herb with powerful blood sugar regulating abilities.

The Hindi name gurmar literally means “sugar destroyer”.

It was indicated in traditional Indian medicine for “sweet urine”. This comes from an old method of testing for diabetes by tasting the urine of patients. If it was sweet, it meant there was excess sugar in the urine. This test is still valid today, but we have much better (and cleaner) methods of measuring sugar metabolism now, such as blood testing.

Gymnema lowers blood sugar levels, and therefore the damage it causes to the cardiovascular system through a number of different ways:

  1. It suppresses the receptors on the tongue that taste sugar, making it less palatable and curbing sugar cravings over time
  2. It increases the filtration rate of the kidneys, helping to clear excess glucose faster through the urine [14]
  3. It’s a potent antioxidant, protecting the insulin secreting cells of the pancreas [15]
  4. Enhances glucose absorption in the muscles, lowering blood sugar and improving muscle function [14]

One study looking at the effects of blood sugar regulating herbs and nutrients found that Gymnema was able to significantly lower cholesterol in rats fed a high sugar and starch diet [13].

As the herbal “king of sugar”, Gymnema is perhaps the best herb available for protecting the body from the damaging effects of high blood sugar and dysfunctional insulin.

It’s effects carry over to other key areas of health including cholesterol levels, inflammation, and cardiovascular health.

Summary

Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in males, for over 40 years running.

There are many factors that contribute to the condition, but the most significant stems from elevated blood sugar levels. The issue is complex, and there are many factors, but it always stems from poor nutrition and lack of exercise.

Using herbs and supplements that combat the negative effects leading to cardiovascular disease can go a long way in keeping you fit and healthy, fending off heart disease into your eighties and nineties.

References:

  1. Rosano, G. M., Leonardo, F., Pagnotta, P., Pelliccia, F., Panina, G., Cerquetani, E., … & Chierchia, S. L. (1999). Acute anti-ischemic effect of testosterone in men with coronary artery disease. Circulation, 99(13), 1666-1670.
  2. Lloyd-Jones, D., Adams, R. J., Brown, T. M., Carnethon, M., Dai, S., De Simone, G., … & Go, A. (2009). Heart disease and stroke statistics—2010 update. A report from the American Heart Association. Circulation.
  3. Agarwal KC. Parks RE Jr. Synergistic inhibition of platelet aggregation by forskolin plus PGEl or 2- fluoroadenosine: effects of 2,5-dideoxyadenosine and 5-methylthioadenosine. Biochem Pharmacol 1982, 31, 3713-3716.
  4. Dubey MP. Srimal RC. Nityanand S. Dhawan BN. Pharmacological studies on coleonol, a hypotensive diterpene from Coteus forskohlii. J Ethnopharmacol 1981:3:1-13.
  5. Wong S. Mok W. Phaneuf S. et al. Forskolin inhibits platelet-activating factor binding to platelet receptors independently of adenylyl cyclase activation. Eur J Pharmacol 1993:245:55-61.
  6. Lindner E. Dohadwalla AN. Bhattacharya BK. Positive inotropic and blood pressure lowering activity of a diterpene derivative isolated from Coleus forskohlii: forskolin. Arzneimitielforscung 1978:28:284-289.
  7. Wysham DG. Brotherton AF. Heistad DD. Effects of forskolin on cerebral blood flow: implications for a role of adenylate cyclase. Stroke 1986:17:1299- 1303.
  8. Okuda H. Morimoto C. Tsujita T. Relationship between cyclic AMP production and lipolysis induced by forskolin in rat fat cells. J Lipid Res 1992;33:225-231.
  9. Holubarsch, C. J., Colucci, W. S., Meinertz, T., Gaus, W., & Tendera, M. (2008). The efficacy and safety of Crataegus extract WS® 1442 in patients with heart failure: The SPICE trial. European journal of heart failure, 10(12), 1255-1263.
  10. Mahady, G. B. (2002). Ginkgo biloba for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease: a review of the literature. Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, 16(4), 21-32.
  11. Simopoulos, A. P. (2002). The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy, 56(8), 365-379.
  12. Kris-Etherton, P. M., Harris, W. S., & Appel, L. J. (2002). Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease. circulation, 106(21), 2747-2757.
  13. Preuss, H. G., Jarrell, S. T., Scheckenbach, R., Lieberman, S., & Anderson, R. A. (1998). Comparative effects of chromium, vanadium and Gymnema sylvestre on sugar-induced blood pressure elevations in SHR. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 17(2), 116-123.
  14. Shanmugasundaram, K. R., Panneerselvam, C., Samudram, P., & Shanmugasundaram, E. R. B. (1981). The insulinotropic activity of Gymnema sylvestre, R. Br. An Indian medical herb used in controlling diabetes mellitus. Pharmacological Research Communications, 13(5), 475-486.
  15. Kang, M. H., Lee, M. S., Choi, M. K., Min, K. S., & Shibamoto, T. (2012). Hypoglycemic activity of Gymnema sylvestre extracts on oxidative stress and antioxidant status in diabetic rats. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 60(10), 2517-2524.

 

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