My pennies-a-day approach to optimal heart health
February was American Heart Month—so it’s probably safe to assume you’ve been bombarded with your fair share of heart health advice. Which is good, seeing as how critically important it is to your well-being.
But today, I want to remind you of a few basics you probably didn’t hear about last month. Because like I’m always telling you, nutritional supplements can make or break your fight against disease.
And no matter how hard conventional medicine tries to discredit them, the following three standbys just might be the most vital allies in your heart’s arsenal…
Vitamin E to the rescue—literally
Over the last decade, the pendulum on vitamin E has swung to a flurry of cooked-up controversy and back. But recent reports show just how powerful this simple nutrient can be.
In fact, one new study shows that it may provide critical protection against heart attacks—one of the top causes of death worldwide. And even if a heart attack doesn’t kill you, it often results in significant damage to the heart muscles.
So the fact that a simple, affordable supplement may be able to minimize this damage is a pretty big deal.
When researchers administered vitamin E to mice two hours before a heart attack, it cut the amount of damaged heart tissue significantly, and ultimately helped restore normal heart function by neutralizing both inflammation and free radical activity.1
According to the study’s lead author, this means that giving heart attack patients vitamin E in the ambulance or emergency room, and throughout their hospitalization, might reduce cardiac damage in a way that no pharmaceutical drug currently can.
Now, that may be a bold conclusion to draw from an animal study.
But I’ll also point out that, as a blood thinner, vitamin E certainly poses less risk than, say, aspirin.
So it certainly doesn’t hurt to take it. Especially when you consider the following…
Stopping heart attacks before they happen
Metabolic syndrome affects nearly half of all adults over 60 in the U.S. It’s marked by obesity (especially fat around the waist), elevated triglycerides, high blood pressure and blood sugar, and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
As you may know, metabolic syndrome is a direct gateway to other serious health issues. Most notably, diabetes and heart disease.
And being an antioxidant that fights inflammation and oxidative stress, vitamin E is protective against both conditions. But here’s the problem: Research shows that people with metabolic syndrome are much more likely to suffer low levels of vitamin E than healthy patients.2
In other words, if you have metabolic syndrome, you won’t absorb as much of this essential nutrient from food or supplements as someone would without the condition. And that sets you up for a dangerous deficiency.
Scientists think this may be because people with metabolic syndrome have lower levels of two types of lipoproteins that help the body absorb and use vitamin E. (They also think the oxidative stress associated with metabolic syndrome could be the reason for the reduced levels of lipoproteins—pointing to a vicious cycle.)
So needless to say, if you’re at high risk of heart disease—especially if you’re obese and suffer from metabolic syndrome—you can’t afford to skimp on vitamin E. And you also need to ensure that your body is absorbing as much of it as possible.
Since vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient, I recommend taking it with foods that contain fat.
And remember, when it comes to vitamin E, all supplements are not created equal.
You’ll want to avoid synthetic vitamin E at all costs. The supplement must be natural (make sure it does not have a “dl” prefix listed before the tocopherols), and it must have the full range of tocopherols (alpha, beta, gamma, and delta).
And remember, always run your vitamin E dosage by your doctor first—especially if you’re taking blood thinners. But I generally recommend 400 to 1,200 IU per day.
A deep-sea substitute for risky drugs
While we’re touching on the importance of fat, let’s look at some of the latest research behind another tried-and-true heart health hero—fish oil.
Because get a load of this: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a list of qualified health claims for omega-3 fatty acids—in particular for their ability to lower blood pressure.3 (Which, of course, reduces all risks related to heart disease, especially stroke.)
Of course, this news went virtually unreported—and you can probably imagine why.
Still, it’s a big step for the agency. One that the Global Organization for EPA and DHA omega -3’s (GOED) has been fighting to achieve for the last five years, armed with more than 700 studies’ worth of scientific support.
And it could mark the beginning of a pretty major paradigm shift—one that American medicine has been pushing off for far too long. Namely, incorporating nutritional supplements into conventional preventive care.
Of course, given the stranglehold that Big Pharma has on both lawmakers and consumers alike, my optimism in this department remains cautious at best. But in the meantime, I hardly need the FDA’s permission to prescribe fish oil for heart disease prevention. Here’s why…
Airtight evidence that fish oil saves lives
You may recall that there have been three large-scale trials dealing with omega-3s and heart disease in recent years: ASCEND, VITAL and REDUCE-IT. They’ve all received a fair amount of attention—and a recently updated meta-analysis makes quick work of showing why.
The authors of this study performed their analysis two ways—once, including the findings from REDUCE-IT, and again without this study’s results.
That’s because the REDUCE-IT trial showed major risk reductions using high-dose fish oil—specifically, 4 grams a day. (Of course, this is exactly why I—and many of my colleagues—recommend high doses of omega-3s. But clearly, the medical establishment remains skeptical.)
Nevertheless, the goal of this study was noble: They wanted to investigate, for the first time, whether omega-3 supplementation reduces heart disease risk according to dose.
(And really, why wouldn’t it? After all, that’s how pharmaceuticals work too. But I digress…)
Researchers looked at 13 randomized trials with more than 127,000 participants—including the latest results from the blockbuster trials I mentioned above, making it the most reliable and up-to-date investigation yet. And guess what?
Even when they excluded the results from REDUCE-IT, they still found significant reductions in heart attack, heart disease and coronary heart disease deaths, and total heart disease events. (When REDUCE-IT results were included, stroke risk dropped significantly, too.)
Ultimately, findings revealed almost a ten percent drop in total heart disease events with every 1 gram increase in omega-3 dosage.4 Which could ultimately prevent hundreds of thousands of heart attacks in the U.S. alone.
So it’s no wonder the FDA finally had to relent on this issue. The science is as airtight as it comes. It’s just a shame it took this long for researchers to give it the time of day it deserves.
As for me, I have always recommended taking a high-quality fish oil supplement each and every day—one that contains at least 3,000 mg of DHA and EPA.
Which brings me to the final nutrient on today’s list…
Double down your defenses with vitamin D
For as long as I’ve been practicing, I’ve been recommending that my patients take a bare minimum of 2,000 to 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. And that recommendation often goes as high as 10,000 IU per day for people with insufficient blood levels—which is a lot more of us than you might think.
The threshold for deficiency most mainstream doctors go by may is 30 ng/mL. But just about every study out there shows you should aim for optimal vitamin D levels around 80 to 90 ng/mL.
As it stands, nearly half the population is D deficient, even by our appallingly low conventional standards. Which can be downright lethal. But the good news is, it’s also very simple to reverse.
In a large meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers collected data from more than 180,000 people. They were analyzing an association between blood levels of vitamin D and cardiovascular disease events and deaths.
And for every 10 ng/mL increase in blood levels of vitamin D, risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke, heart failure, or other cardiovascular event dropped by 10 percent, and risk of heart disease death plummeted 12 percent.5
This could be due to the fact that vitamin D is anti-inflammatory. Or that vitamin D gets in the way of compounds that make plaque unstable, which helps prevent heart attacks. Another possibility is that vitamin D has a positive effect on the smooth muscle cells in the vascular system.
Whatever the mechanism, one thing is clear: Getting enough vitamin D is essential to optimal heart health. (Now, if only we could get conventional cardiologists to put down their prescription pads and hop on board.)
So, have your vitamin D 25 OH blood level checked. For levels that fall between 80 to 90 ng/mL, I recommend a daily dose of 2,000 to 5,000 IU. (Be sure to have your levels checked every six months to ensure you’re maintaining optimal levels.) Meanwhile, I normally recommend 10,000 IU daily for low blood levels.
Bottom line: Not only do these three simple supplements protect your heart and, in turn, prolong your life, but they do so at a significant cost savings compared to mainstream medicine’s preferred approaches.
You can take expensive drugs that have no proven benefit and a boatload of negative side effects. (I’m looking at you, statins.) Or you could spend pennies a day on time-tested vitamins and fish oil, all with an equally impressive body of science—and more importantly, safety—on their side. The choice, as always, is yours. But as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get any easier than this.
- Wallert M, et al. “α-Tocopherol preserves cardiac function by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in ischemia/reperfusion injury.” Redox Biol. 2019 Sep;26:101292.
- Mah E, et al. “α-Tocopherol bioavailability is lower in adults with metabolic syndrome regardless of dairy fat co-ingestion: a randomized, double-blind, crossover trial.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Nov;102(5):1070-80.
- US Food & Drug Administration. “FDA Announces New Qualified Health Claims for EPA and DHA Omega-3 Consumption and the Risk of Hypertension and Coronary Heart Disease.” 06/19/2019. (fda.gov/food/cfsan-constituent-updates/fda-announces-new-qualified-health-claims-epa-and-dha-omega-3-consumption-and-risk-hypertension-and)
- Hu Y, et al. “Marine Omega‐3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease: An Updated Meta‐Analysis of 13 Randomized Controlled Trials Involving 127 477 Participants.” J Am Heart Assoc. 2019 Oct;8(19):e013543.
- Zhang R, et al. “Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D and the risk of cardiovascular disease: dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Apr;105(4):810-819.