Proper Nutrition and Heart Health
WebMD's top 5 vitamins and minerals for heart health. Part 2 of a three-part series.
Making More Magnesium Mandatory
Large studies have linked magnesium deficiency to high blood pressure, while some
have shown an association between magnesium supplements and a decreased
risk of death from heart disease.
"Some researchers say that, as a nation, we could cut our rate of heart
disease by one-half if we took more magnesium," says City Island,
N.Y.-based Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, author of The Miracle of Magnesium.
"Magnesium is the body's natural calcium channel blocker. It balances out
the excess calcium that is associated with the heart going into muscle spasm,
which equals a heart attack."
Dark, leafy green vegetables are rich in magnesium, and whole grains and
nuts also are good sources.
"Cooked and processed foods also lose a lot of magnesium, making it a
very deficient mineral." That's why Dean suggests taking 300 mg two to
three times a day of magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate, or magnesium
glycinate. Magnesium supplements can interfere with the absorption of certain
medications and may cause diarrhea, so be sure to talk to
your doctor first.
Data from the Nurses' Health Study and the Harvard School of Public Health
back up Dean's claims. A higher intake of magnesium may reduce the risk of
developing type 2 diabetes. Research has
shown that low levels of magnesium may impair insulin sensitivity or function.
Consuming adequate levels of magnesium may help insulin function properly in
the body, which may prevent type 2 diabetes.
The American Heart Association (AHA) lists diabetes as one of the six major
risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In fact, adults with diabetes are two
to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than adults without
Not Fooling With Folic Acid
Folic acid, a B vitamin, is
important for heart health, experts agree. The
amount of homocysteine in the blood, a marker for heart disease, is regulated
by folic acid.
"High levels of homocysteine can lead to heart disease, and the way to
combat high homocysteine is to take folic acid," says Michael Poon, MD,
chief of cardiology at Cabrini Medical Center in New York. Aim for 1 milligram
or 1,000 micrograms a day, he says.
Homocysteine may damage the blood vessel walls and promote blood clots, and
although studies have consistently shown that high levels are associated with
an increased risk of heart disease, researchers are still not sure whether
lowering the level of homocysteine reduces heart disease risk.
But homocysteine levels are strongly influenced by diet, and several studies have
shown that higher blood levels of B vitamins -- specifically folic acid -- are
related, at least partly, to lower concentrations of homocysteine. Today,
cereals, breads, and other grains like rice are fortified with extra folic
acid. Fruits and vegetables like
spinach, strawberries, oranges, and broccoli have high levels of folic
But don't forget the other Bs, says Nancy Kennedy, MS, RD, a nutritionist at
the Ministrelli Women's Heart Center at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich.
Vitamins B-6 and B-12 are also important in lowering homocysteine. "Many
clinicians emphasize folic acid, but actually all three B vitamins are involved
in the metabolism of homocysteine,
and B-6 is one of the vitamins that is typically very low in the American
diet," she says. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) suggests 2 mg of
B-6 and 6 micrograms of B-12. Beef liver, baked potatoes, watermelon, and
banana are rich in B-6, while milk, meats (beef, pork, lamb, veal, fish,
poultry), eggs, and cheese are replete with B-12.