Valentine’s Day is Healthy for Your Heart
Valentine’s Day – The Healthiest Day of the Year
As you plan that special Valentine’s Day dinner, prepare to dust your duvet with rose petals, and buy velvety dark chocolate for loved ones, know that you may be on your way to the “healthiest day of the year!” Endorphins (our “feel good” hormones) are boosted by the scent of fresh flowers, romance, intimacy, and laughter, all part of the great celebration of love day.
Meanwhile, you may have noticed we’ve been talking about heart health quite a bit lately, and it’s no coincidence. During the cold winter months, cardiovascular events are known to increase dramatically. Even modest weight gain from holiday binging can increase blood pressure, serious flu infections can trigger acute cardiac events, and cholesterol levels typically rise in winter. Still there’s plenty of room for optimism.
Omega-3s Offer Sweet Vascular Benefits
An emerging field of biological research called metabolomics has led to some interesting research concerning the benefits of omega-3s for heart health. Oregon State researchers analyzed metabolites (the end products of gene expression including hormones and other signaling compounds) to assess the effects of omega-3s on the body. The results were powerful: omega-3s were shown to reduce the formation of dangerous glucose metabolites markers in the bloodstream linked to diabetes. Moreover, researchers found that DHA, one of the two types of omega-3s in most fish oil supplements, either partially or completely thwarted metabolic damage resulting from poor nutrition, including heart-destructive diets rich in red meat and saturated fat.
Fast Facts: Some fish are high in mercury and other metallic toxins that pose health risks when consumed too often. Click here for the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Super Green” list of wild-caught and responsibly farmed seafood low in metallic toxins and rich in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.
A second study from the University of Athens Medical School in Greece furthers our fatty acid fascination with the discovery that a daily dose of two grams of omega-3 supplementation for 12 weeks improved both flow mediated dilation and pulse wave velocity, measures of healthy blood flow and artery elasticity.
Blocking Heart Disease Almost 50% with Plant Polyphenols
We’ve also been spending a lot of time talking about plant polyphenols and their remarkable prostate health benefits for men (per the new supplement Pomi-T), but what about the major heart health benefits these nutrients pose for men and women alike?
According to a new study, increased intake of polyphenols reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease by as much as 46% in over 7,000 participants! Plant polyphenols have long been associated with cardiovascular health, as they play a crucial role in platelet function, lowering blood pressure, and preventing oxidation and inflammation. Remarkably, subjects with the highest consumption of these powerful flavonoids (a family of polyphenols) demonstrated a truly breathtaking 60% reduction in cardiovascular disease risk.
Fast Facts: Researchers suggest that flavanols may be one of the keys to cocoa’s heart-healthy benefits. In addition to serving as potent antioxidants, the flavanols found in chocolate are thought to lower blood pressure, encourage healthy blood circulation, and reduce blood platelet stickiness. But all chocolate is not created equal: flavanols are what gives unprocessed cocoa its bitter, pungent taste. For the highest flavanol content, choose minimally-processed dark chocolate, which contains less added sugar and fat than milk chocolate.
Reducing Cholesterol with Chocolate Bars?
Speaking of chocolate, Teri is not shy about her love affair with dark chocolate (the rest of us just quietly gobble up the goodies and look vaguely surprised when the treats are all gone). We were all intrigued to discover that dark chocolate is now being infused with phytosterols, plant-derived compounds that inhibit intestinal absorption of cholesterol.
Chocolate bars with phytosterols could garner a coveted FDA-approved claim for reducing cholesterol, as researchers from Brazil and Italy have proven shelf stability. The sugar-free chocolate bars they evaluated boasted 2.2 grams of phytosterols, almost a full gram more than the FDA threshold for making cholesterol-lowering claims.
Until these bars go mainstream, you can munch on dark chocolate with nuts (rich in phytosterols) and sprinkle in some beta sitosterol for good measure.
Resveratrol No Longer “Debunked” – Protects Against Cancer & More
Remember hearing about that (ahem) sketchy study that found that resveratrol might inhibit the positive effects of exercise in older people? Well, the very same journal recently published a revised opinion attacking the original study’s methods, citing “major statistical issues.” This rebuttal was done, alas, with little media attention.
Regardless, demand for resveratrol has remained high, especially given ongoing research showing resveratrol’s role in protecting against cancer, heart disease, and premature aging.