Heart Disease

More people die prematurely from diseases of the heart and arteries than anything else – 250,000 a year, half from heart attacks and a quarter from strokes. Yet both of these are largely preventable diseases with highly familiar risk factors, such as poor diet, smoking, obesity and lack of exercise.

If you’ve just been diagnosed with some form of heart disease – angina, hypertension (high blood pressure), thrombosis, a stroke or heart attack – your doctor is probably unlikely to focus on these risk factors. Instead, you’ll probably be prescribed a cocktail of drugs to lower your cholesterol, bring down your blood pressure and thin your blood. The trouble is these medications all interfere with some aspect of your body’s chemistry and none are necessary if you address the underlying causes of heart disease.

The combined strategy of changing your diet, improving your lifestyle, and taking the right supplements is likely to be far more effective than taking prescribed drugs for both preventing and reversing cardiovascular disease, without the side effects. If you are on medication and take these steps to reduce your risk, and thereby achieve normalization of the biochemical markers for cardiovascular disease, there should be no need to continue taking cardiovascular medication.

However, do not, and we repeat, DO NOT, change any prescribed medication without first consulting your doctor.

What Works

Exercise every day, stop smoking and lose weight if you need to.

Diet. Eat plenty of soya (as tofu or soya milk, for instance), almonds, seeds, oats and beans and loads of vegetables to get plenty of the cholesterol busters plant sterols and fibre, as well as folic acid and magnesium. Also use turmeric and ginger liberally in your cooking and have at least one, if not two, cloves of garlic every day – or a garlic capsule. Avoid sugar, deep-fried foods and salt, except for Solo sea salt. Cut back on meat, cheese and other high-fat foods and avoid alcohol in excess.

For omega-3 fats, think fish. Have three servings a week of oily fish such as mackerel, wild or organic salmon, herrings or sardines, and a daily omega-3 fish oil capsule providing around 200mg of EPA a day, or double this if you have cardiovascular disease. This is the equivalent of 1,000mg of omega-3 fish oil twice a day, depending on the potency of the supplement.

Get your B vitamins to lower homocysteine. To know how much you need to take, check your homocysteine level (either ask your doctor or go for a home test kit) [Link to home test kit resources] and supplement accordingly. In any event, make sure you are supplementing 50mg of B6, 400mcg of folic acid and 250mcg of B12 (in you are over 50), as well as eating plenty of greens and beans. Have 1,000mg of ‘no-flush’ niacin (B3) if your cholesterol level or LDL level is high, or HDL level is low.

Ensure your diet is antioxidant-rich – eat lots of fruit and vegetables, fish and seeds and also supplement 200mg of vitamin E (400mg if you have cardiovascular risk and are not on a statin), together with 30 to 60mg of CoQ10 (double this if you have cardiovascular disease or are taking a statin) and 2g of vitamin C (double this if you have cardiovascular disease. Don’t take individual antioxidant nutrients on their own. They are team players. Consider also supplementing 20 to 40mg of gingko biloba and 400 to 600mg of turmeric extract.

Supplement magnesium. In addition to eating plenty of vegetables, nuts and seeds, especially pumpkin seeds, supplement 150mg of magnesium every day and double this if you have cardiovascular disease.

In practical terms, a supplement programme to prevent or reverse cardiovascular disease might look like this:

For Prevention For Treatment
High-strength multivitamin 2 2
Vitamin E 200mg 1
Vitamin C 1,000mg 2 2
Omega-3 fish oil 1 2
CoQ10 30mg 1-2 2-4
B vitamins 1 3 (if homocysteine is high)
Ginkgo biloba 40mg 1

Dig deeper by reading Food is Better Medicine Than Drugs for all the evidence to support this approach, and its comparative effectiveness and safety compared to the conventional treatment of heart disease. Also read Say No to Heart Disease by Patrick Holford.

Working with Your Doctor

Obviously, if you’ve had a heart attack or have very high blood pressure, we’re not suggesting you throw your drugs away. Let your doctor know you want to pursue nutritional and lifestyle changes to minimise your need for medication. It’s a good idea to establish the goal that would make it no longer necessary for you to have medication, for example a cholesterol measure below 5, or blood pressure below 130/85. As you start to incorporate the nutritional changes we recommend into your life, you can monitor the effect.

If you’re on blood-thinning drugs such as aspirin or warfarin, speak to your doctor before taking concentrated supplements of omega-3 fish oils, gingko biloba or vitamin E above 300mg since they may want to monitor your INR and platelet adhesion index and consider reducing the drug accordingly.

As your vital heart statistics improve, your doctor will want to reduce your medication accordingly. You can always consult a nutritional therapist to help devise a plan of action for you.