Harsh medicine it’s not: Cocoa is a remedy we love to love. No scientific studies are required to prove its taste, but several have shown it may reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure.
In one study, adults who ate three or four bars of dark chocolate a week had lower blood pressure than those with less flavor (and fewer flavonoids) in their lives. An analysis of seven studies linked higher chocolate consumption to lower risk of heart disease and stroke.
The native Kuna people of Panama and their cocoa-drinking habits have been well documented: These people of very stout heart drink four or five cups of it a day. In general, Kuna Indians have very low blood pressure, live longer than their non-Kuna countrymen, and experience less heart disease and cancer.
Would it be a surprise if they were happier, too?
To avoid the fat content, or if you’re not a chocolate lover, cocoa polyphenols can be taken in supplement form. Doses of up to 500 milligrams (mg) have been studied for high blood pressure.
Increasing levels of B6 and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) in the blood appears to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease, the most common form of heart disease and a leading cause of death globally. CoQ10 is effective in helping people suffering from angina, heart attacks, and high blood pressure.
There have been several studies linking negative cardiac outcomes with low levels of serum magnesium. In one study, adults 46 to 64 years old with the highest levels of magnesium had an overall 40 percent reduced risk of sudden cardiac death.
Magnesium coordinates the action of the heart muscles and the nerves that initiate the heartbeat, reducing the possibility of arrhythmia.
This powerful herb is believed to lower blood cholesterol, protect blood vessels from free radicals, and reduce the tendency of blood to clot. Garlic, especially in powder and aged garlic extract forms, is a healthy addition to the diet for a myriad of reasons, including those at risk for cardiovascular disease.
These fatty acids can help lower lipid levels and blood pressure, help vascular function and cardiac rhythms, and improve inflammatory response. Taken with blood-thinning drugs, they may reduce the risk of heart attacks in patients with stents in the heart arteries.
Vitamin D may reduce the risk of heart attack. In fact, the American Journal of Cardiology has reported that taking a vitamin D supplement significantly reduced the chance of dying prematurely, by at least half.
“We expected to see that there was a relationship between heart disease and vitamin D deficiency,” cardiologist James Vacek, MD, told Reuters Health. “We were surprised at how strong it was.”
You can still get the benefits of hot peppers even if you can’t take the burn. Found in supplements as well as spicy vegetables, capsaicinoids appear to reduce cholesterol accumulation and help blood flow more freely to the heart and other organs.
“Eating sterol and stanol-containing foods is an easy way to lower your LDL cholesterol, which helps reduce the risk of heart disease,” says Ruth Frechman, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA).
Plant sterols can be found in supplements, and some food products are now fortified with sterols. You can consume more by adding nuts, seeds, and sesame oil to your diet.
A prescription heart medication in some European countries, hawthorn has been found to offer significant benefits for patients with chronic heart failure. It’s also used to treat high blood pressure and mild heart arrhythmias.
“Chocolate Consumption and Cardiometabolic Disorders: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis” by A. Buitrago-Lopez et al., BMJ, 8/29/11
“Dark Chocolate and Blood Pressure . . .” by S. A. Al-Safi et al., Curr Drug Deliv, 11/11
“Flavanols, the Kuna, Cocoa Consumption, and Nitric Oxide” by N. K. Hollenberg et al., J Am Soc Hypertens, 3/09
“Hot Pepper Compound Could Help Hearts,” American Chemical Society, 3/14/12
“A Meta-Analysis of Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trials for the Effects of Garlic on Serum Lipid Profiles” by T. Zeng et al., J Sci Food Agric, 7/12
“A Significant Correlation Between the Plasma Levels of Coenzyme Q10 and Vitamin B-6 and a Reduced Risk of Coronary Artery Disease” by B. Lee et al., Nutrition Research, 10/16/12
“UCLA Clinical Study Shows Kyolic CoQ10 Reduces Coronary Calcium, Inflammation & Stress,” Wakunaga of America, 5/23/12
“Vitamin D Deficiency and Supplementation and Relation to Cardiovascular Health” by J. L. Vacek et al., Am J Cardiol, 11/7/11