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Heart Disease and Diet

Heart disease is by far America's number one killer. SUDDEN DEATH is its most common first symptom. Sadly, one out of every three Americans is at high risk -- and most don't even know it.
American Heart Association recommends a "balanced diet" and says:

"When eaten on a regular basis as part of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, soluble fiber has been shown to help lower blood cholesterol."

The Realities of Getting a "Balanced Diet"

What are the challenges to a healthy diet? People today are typically crisis managers. We don't take steps to ensure good health until it is too late. Probably the major challenge to a better diet is inconvenience. Snacks and processed foods are convenient. Fruits and vegetables often need refrigeration and preparation. Try ordering carrot sticks or broccoli the next time you're in your favorite fast-food restaurant.

To get the recommended 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day probably means you need a supplement. But be label conscious. Major requirements to look for in a high fiber supplement are that it is low calorie, from multiple fiber sources, and contains no saturated fat.

Cost is also a factor. A WSDF supplement should cost no more than the snacks or other processed foods it is (hopefully) replacing in your diet, i.e. $2.00 to $3.00 per day. Too low a price can mean low quality and/or untested fiber sources. Taste is important too.

Read the journal abstracts and other references listed here and in the WellnessWeb Heart Center,  Then figure out the value of the supplements versus the costs of the diseases a high fiber diet can help you avoid?

(Costs of Coronary Artery Disease: acute myocardial infarction -- $51,211; angina pectoris -- $24,980; unstable angina pectoris -- $40,581; sudden death -- $9,078; non-sudden death -- $19,697. Five year costs calculated in 1990 in 1986 dollars. Courtesy: American Journal of Cardiology).

In addition to water-soluble fibers, certain other dietary factors have been identified by medical science as vital to a healthy heart. Emphasis is put on anti-oxidants and other nutritional supplements as defenses against heart disease before aggressive interventions with surgery and drugs is recommended.


Ample levels of water soluble dietary fiber (WSDF) are missing in the diet of the average American. In addition to their role in heart disease, WSDF is thought to reduce the risk of colon cancer, alleviate constipation, prevent hemorrhoids, intestinal polyps and diverticulosis, help to control diabetes and, when added to a weight loss program, can help control hunger.

  • Psyllium Husk
  • Pectin
  • Guar Gum
  • Locust Bean Gum
  • Acacia

"Studies with guar gum, locust bean gum, pectin, oat bran, legumes, and psyllium have all shown significant cholesterol lowering effects. The practical implications of such studies, however, are limited because of the lack of palatable forms of many of these fibers." (Am J Clin Nutrition 1992;56:887-94)

A clinical study by Stanford researchers published in the American Journal of Cardiology (1992;60:433-439) "demonstrated that a mixture of WSDF sources (pysllium husk, pectin and guar and locust bean gums) can be practically incorporated into the diet and result in significant cholesterol lowering within 4 weeks."

The U.S. Surgeon General and other organizations recommend 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day. The typical American diet is high in processed foods and most Americans get only about 10-12 grams of fiber per day.

Fiber adds no calories to the diet and has been proven valuable in the management of weight loss, the prevention or treatment of appendicitis, breast cancer, candida, high cholesterol, colon and colorectal cancer, constipation, coronary heart disease, diabetes diverticular disease, gallstones, hemorrhoids, hiatus hernia, hypertension and stroke, infection, irritable bowel and /or gastrointestinal tolerance, prostate cancer, ulcers, varicose veins, and others including menstruation problems.


Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are naturally occurring sugars used as food additives due to their flavor and sweetener enhancing properties. FOS are non-digestible by humans and may possess some dietary fiber-like functions since they cause a decline in the hydrolysis of sucrose and maltose. FOS have been shown to suppress the formation of putrefactive products (noxious substances formed by intestinal microorganisms). Health benefits reported to be associated with FOS include production of volatile fatty acids, increase in bifidobacteria and other beneficial microorganisms in the intestine, lowering of intestinal pH, reduction in constipation, amelioration of antibiotic-associated diarrhea and a reduction in serum triglycerides and cholesterol.


  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin C
  • Selenium

Oxidants, or "free radicals" have been linked to cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, atherosclerosis, cataracts, aging, stroke, asthma, pancreatitis, Parkinson's disease, and inflammatory bowel disease, to name a few. Free radicals, or oxidants, are unstable molecules. They were described at a recent UCLA conference on aging as "grenades exploding inside normal cells."

Free radicals come from sources such as tobacco smoke, air pollutants, organic solvents, anesthetics, pesticides, certain medications and radiation.

Anti-oxidants are vitamins acting in conjunction with minerals and other agents that help to neutralize free radicals before they can damage the body. The body does not manufacture anti-oxidants, they must come from our diet. When vitamins and minerals are taken as anti-oxidants to supplement a less than perfect diet, they should be taken in combinations that have been found to be synergistic.

Although we know that it is Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol, which is linked to heart disease, medical science has recently discovered that it is only "oxidized" LDL which is, in fact, atherogenic. Normal, un-oxidized LDL is not in itself directly associated with heart disease. A cardiac prevention program thus should have two goals:

  • Lower LDL cholesterol to safe levels.
  • Prevent any LDL that is present from becoming oxidized.

A carefully selected formulation of anti-oxidant vitamins and minerals has the potential to reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Since the oxidation of LDL cholesterol occurs inside the artery wall, which is a fat environment, "fat-soluble" vitamins are sometimes recommended


  • Chromium
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium

Certain minerals essential for proper metabolism and related to a healthy cardiovascular system. Chromium deficiency may cause insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia, impaired glucose tolerance and hyperlipidemia, which may be reversed by chromium supplementation. Magnesium deficiency may lead to coronary arteriosclerosis and the levels of magnesium in the blood and have been reported to be inversely correlated with the severity of coronary artery disease. Calcium deficiency, especially in the elderly, has been linked to arteriosclerosis and hypertension.

Some of the vitamins and minerals which may be associated with a healthy heart are chromium, selenium, vitamin E, magnesium, vitamin C, and calcium.

NOTE: Be sure to check all supplements you take for dosages. When combined they may put you over recommended limits.


Throughout the world, especially in Europe and Asia, there has been a rebirth in the use of herbal medicines based in part on an increasing number of scientific studies and information concerning plants, crude plant extracts and various other substances from plants used as medicinal agents.

Herbs that may have a synergistic action in the lowering of cholesterol and improving the health of the cardiovascular system include:

1. Gugulipid -- an extract of the mukuk myrrh tree native to India -- based on its apparent ability to increase the liver's metabolism of LDL-cholesterol and the uptake of LDL-cholesterol from the blood by the liver.

2. Citrium

3. Triphala -- which consists of equal parts of emblic, chebulic and belleric myrobalan, deciduous trees found throughout India -- is used to promote the function of the liver and gastrointestinal tract, aid in digestion and liver metabolism, and may help in the treatment of heart disease, diabetes and constipation.

4. Trigonella -- from fenugreek seeds -- may lower blood lipids. Fenugreek seeds contain hypocholesterolemic components which appear to be saponins that interact with bile salts in the digestive tracts and exhibit a strong inhibitory effect on bile salt absorption. A diet containing fenugreek seeds may result in reductions of serum total cholesterol, LDL and VLDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels without altering HDL cholesterol.

5. Terminalia may have preventive features by their potential to reduce lipids. One study showed that patients treated with terminalia for refractory chronic congestive heart failure showed improvement in symptoms and signs of heart failure when compared to the placebo group.

6. Allium -- garlic -- has been shown to have broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity against certain types of bacteria, viruses, worms and fungi. It is also considered useful in cardiovascular applications. Clinical studies have shown allium to impact factors involved in atherosclerosis, including an ability to lower blood pressure, LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides and platelet aggregation while increasing HDL-cholesterol and fibrinolysis.

7. Gentiana -- a common plant -- has an intensely bitter root containing glucosides. Gentiana is sometimes prescribed as a treatment for the liver, especially in cases of jaundice, and to promote digestion. Clinical studies have shown that gentiana protects against hepatitis by significantly suppressing the increase of tumor necrosis factor in serum.

8. Crataegus -- an extract from the hawthorn plant -- is widely used by physicians in Europe and Asia for its potential effect on the cardiovascular system due to the presence of procyanidin flavonoids. Flavonoid glycosides are thought to work in a similar way to the vasodilator drug digitoxin. Studies have demonstrated hawthorn extracts are effective in reducing angina attacks, as well as lowering blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels.

9. Leonuris Cardiaca -- an herb derived from the plant Motherwort -- has traditionally been used to strengthen the function of the heart. (A Modern Herbal)

10. Ginkgo Biloba -- the world's oldest living tree species -- traces its medicinal use back to the oldest Chinese medicines. Ginkgo leave extracts are among the leading prescription medicines in both Germany and France (1.0% and 1.5% of all prescriptions respectively). Ginkgo Biloba has been extensively studied for its vascular, antioxidant and free radical scavenging effects. Ginkgo Biloba is prescribed as a treatment for symptoms and underlying pathophysiology of arterial insufficiency and may be effective against the development of Alzheimer's disease, hearing loss and stroke.

11. Capsicum -- a pungent irritant present in peppers of the Capsicum family is believed to prolong cardiac action potential in the atrial muscle. Research indicates that capsicum has fibrinolytic activity, breaking down blood clots through an enzymatic mechanism. Daily ingestion of capsicum is associated with a low incidence of thromboembolic (potentially fatal blood clotting) diseases.

12. Rosmarinus -- derived from the leaves of the commonly used spice and flavoring agent, rosemary -- displays antioxidant and antihepatotoxic properties. Rosmarinus is a potential inhibitor of the initiation and tumor promotion phases of carcinogenesis, and may inhibit lipid peroxidation and protect red blood cells against oxidative hemolysis.

All material provided on WellnessWeb is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as a substitute for a physician's consultation. Material posted online by users does not represent the positions of WellnessWeb or its participating health care practitioners.