As the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States regardless of ethnicity, heart disease takes a toll on us like nothing else. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that one person dies every 36 seconds from heart disease, and this accounts for more than 600,000 deaths each year in the United States.
Looking to support cardiovascular health only gains importance as we age. The cardiovascular system consists of the heart and all of the blood vessels (arteries and veins) that facilitate the circulation of blood throughout the body to key organs and systems. It is responsible for the transport of nutrients, oxygen, and even immune factors to sites throughout the body where they are needed. In this way, cardiovascular health touches all aspects and functions that are keys to healthy aging.
Adults aged 65 and older have a higher risk of heart disease and cardiovascular issues than those that are younger as the aging process can negatively impact the heart and blood vessels in many ways. These changes can lead to an increased risk of stroke and an increased risk of heart attack as we age.
Living a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle
While age can have some negative effects on cardiovascular health, the good news is that key lifestyle measures can serve to arrest these negative changes, allowing our cardiovascular systems to remain healthy as we age. We have all heard about many of these heart-healthy lifestyle habits that promote healthy aging along with a healthy heart and cellular health. Some of the key elements of this approach include eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and avoiding lifestyle habits that damage cardiovascular health such as smoking. Another huge impact on the development of heart disease is stress. For this reason, stress reduction is an extremely important factor for maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system.
Research is increasingly pointing to the fact that unhealthy dietary habits and lifestyle practices adversely affect the health of the blood vessels and heart, increasing what scientists refer to as the “rate of aging” of the heart, blood vessels and other organs throughout the body. The slower these key systems age, the better we can protect heart health and reduce risk of stroke and other cardiovascular events. Thus, healthy physical activity, eating a heart-healthy diet, and avoiding other negative lifestyle practices that increase the rate of aging are critical to maintain cardiovascular health throughout life.
Supplements for Heart Health
In addition to lifestyle and dietary practices, another factor in heart health is ensuring the body’s nutrient needs are met. While healthy dietary choices play a key role in supporting the body’s nutritional needs, the fact is that the majority of individuals in the US fail to get adequate amounts of several important nutritional factors that promote a healthy cardiovascular system. While many vitamins and minerals support heart health, some of the most crucial include vitamin D and magnesium, along with a special form of vitamin K known as vitamin K2.
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that acts more like a prohormone in the body, facilitating the function of so many key processes for health. Research continues to discover the important role of adequate vitamin D for several areas of heart health and scientists continue to show that the majority of the population is deficient in vitamin D. This vitamin has been found to play a role in blood vessel health, by improving the lining of the blood vessel walls, reducing overall inflammation to keep the cardiovascular system functioning properly, supporting healthy blood sugar metabolism (a key risk factor for heart disease), and maintaining optimal blood pressure levels.
By addressing these critical cardiovascular risk factors, vitamin D is one of the best supplements to consider for overall health. It is important to keep in mind that vitamin D3 is the form of this vitamin that you should supplement with. Vitamin D3 is much more readily converted to the active form of vitamin D in the body than the commonly available vitamin D2, so look for supplements that contain vitamin D3 to enhance your levels of this critical vitamin.
As a mineral that acts as a catalyst for hundreds of metabolic reactions throughout the body, magnesium is indispensable for a healthy heart. This mineral supports a normal heart rhythm and heartbeat, participates in cellular energy production in the form of ATP, relaxes the smooth muscle that lines blood vessels promoting healthy circulation and blood pressure, and decreases overall inflammation in the cardiovascular system. More than 50% of adults in the US fail to consume adequate amounts of magnesium on a daily basis, increasing the need for supplementing with this mineral.
Researchers have looked at population data for magnesium intake and concluded that higher levels of magnesium are protective against the development of cardiovascular health issues and supports key risk factors associated with heart wellness. The benefits of magnesium supplements include promoting healthy blood sugar metabolism, optimal blood pressure health, enhanced circulation, and overall cardiovascular health.
While vitamin K is well known for its role in the blood clotting process, the additional benefits associated with the unique form of vitamin K known as K2, or menaquinone-7, are less appreciated. Most supplements containing vitamin K use the form of K known as K1; however, most are missing the more important K2 form. Vitamin K2 is mostly absent from the western diet because it tends to be found in fermented foods which are more commonly consumed in Asia; however, vitamin K2 supports critical aspects of cardiovascular health that vitamin K1 does not effectively support. K2 has a longer half-life than K1 and is, therefore, highly active in the body. Its main function is to activate two calcium transport proteins in the blood vessels.
When K2 is deficient, these transporters don’t work, leaving calcium to accumulate in the walls of the blood vessels. This is detrimental for cardiovascular health as it makes the blood vessels rigid and less flexible. So, vitamin K2’s major function is to activate calcium transport proteins that take the calcium from the arteries to the bones, where it belongs. By doing so, vitamin K2 improves the health and flexibility of the blood vessels, reduces blood pressure, enhances circulation, and supports bone health. All of these attributes benefit the cardiovascular system by keeping it healthy and benefit other organs and systems throughout the body by facilitating the transfer of nutrients from the blood to key organs, including the brain, kidneys and others. Remember to look for supplements that contain vitamin K2 in the form of menaquinone-7 to achieve these desired benefits as other forms of K2 are less effective. Also keep in mind that many forms of vitamin K2 are not stable so only supplement with a stabilized form.
Keeping the heart and cardiovascular system healthy as we age is a critical endeavor. Along with a healthy diet and key lifestyle practices, supplementing with three important nutrients, namely vitamin D and magnesium, as well as vitamin K2, is an essential component for allowing the heart to flourish and age well.
- Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2022 Update. American Heart Association. Accessed at: https://www.ahajournals.org/StatUpdate
- Heart Health and Aging. NIH. National Institute on Aging. Accessed at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/heart-health-and-aging#
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- Hariri E, Kassis N, Iskandar JP, et al. Open Heart. 2021;8(2):e001715.
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