Nutrition and Circulation

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Nutrition and Circulation

A diet low in saturated fat, processed or refined foods and rich in whole, unprocessed foods with the beneficial polyunsaturates should enable a person to maintain healthy homocysteine levels in a healthy body.

Supplementation with a good quality multinutrients rich in B vitamins to ensure against shortfalls in the diet would be prudent. Studies show that people receiving B vitamins experienced a significant decrease in homocysteine (28%).

The conclusion was that in those with mildly high homocysteine levels, B vitamins may be effective in reducing the risk of heart disease. (4)

Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant, it helps stop B vitamins becoming oxidised by free radicals. Vitamin C also has a role in reducing platelet aggregation, LDL (low density lipoprotein) oxidation and in reducing cholesterol levels. (5)

'Antioxidant' nutrients vitamins C, E and minerals selenium, zinc, manganese and copper have a powerful effect in reducing the damaging activity of free radicals made naturally in the body. Free radicals are by-products of energy production and are unavoidable. Pollution damage to cells from things like cigarette smoking and inhaling fumes from cars and chemicals (plastics and so on) cause free radicals. In addition to the antioxidant vitamins and minerals and Coenzyme Q 10, many of the phytonutrients found in herbs have an antioxidant effect on the circulatory system, the most common being bioflavonoids.

A study involving 182 participants taking a 24 ingredient multinutrient supplement observed that after six months of the supplementation, elevations in plasma concentrations of vitamins B6, B12, C, E, folate, and beta-carotene were greater than placebo groups. The study concluded that a multi-nutrient supplement formula with antioxidant properties has measurable effects on homocysteine and cholesterol oxidation markers and therefore may decrease the risk of heart disease. (6)

The benefits of supplementation with multinutrients in homocysteine and cholesterol levels have been studied. The results showed that homocysteine levels and cholesterol oxidation rate decreased among those using the multivitamin supplements compared to the placebo group. The conclusion was that a multinutrient formula with antioxidant properties has measurable effects on homocysteine and cholesterol oxidation markers and therefore may decrease therisk of heart disease. (7)

Key Nutrients

Beta Carotene is one of a group of carotenoids found in plants. It has antioxidant ability as a scavenger of free radicals. Excess free radicals may cause damage to cells and body tissues. Beta carotene works well with the other carotenoids of which alpha carotene, cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, lutein and lycopene are some; there are more being discovered. B vitamins are part of co-enzymes that release energy from food; they are used in the body for healthy nerves, and other important jobs such as controlling homocysteine levels in the blood. The most well-known B vitamins are B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (panthothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cobalamin) and folic acid. Food packaging like cereal boxes list the vitamin content to give us an idea on how much the food provides. B vitamins work best together as a complex.

Vitamin C is important for a healthy immune system; it helps to form collagen and takes part in the repair and renewal of skin and bone tissues. The human body cannot make Vitamin C, which is why a minimum of 5 portions of fresh fruit and vegetables (excluding potatoes) is virtually worldwide advice (in some countries it is 8 portions). A Vitamin C food supplement may be helpful to prevent dietary shortfalls as Vitamin C has many roles in the human body.

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin needed for the health of the heart and for circulation. It helps protect fats in cell membranes from the effects of free-radical damage caused by pollution, stress and illness. Vitamin E is composed of alpha, beta, delta and gamma tocopherols and tocotrienols, and when together, the components work more efficiently. Many multinutrient formulas contain the single part of vitamin E as d-alpha tocopherol, it is a cost effective way of including it in the product. Look out for Non-GM vitamin E products.

Iron is vital for oxygen transport around the body. Iron is in haemoglobin in the blood and myoglobin in muscles. Vitamin C helps iron absorption.

Magnesium plays a fundamental role in energy production, as well as nerve and muscle function. Magnesium works together with vitamin B6. If energy levels are low, it follows that heart and circulation function will be slow.

Selenium is a mineral needed for the structure of glutathione peroxidase, an antioxidant enzyme. Selenium is often deficient in food; it is dependent on the soil content of where the crop is grown. This mineral may be found together with zinc, manganese and copper in antioxidant formula food supplements.

Zinc is vital for immune health, cell division, growth and development and reproductive health. Together with manganese and copper, zinc is involved in the structure of superoxide dismustase, an antioxidant enzyme. Zinc is an important part of many other enzyme structures.

Lecithin emulsifies dietary fats. Lecithin contains phosphatidylcholine which increases the solubility of cholesterol; this reduces the chance of atherosclerosis. The phosphatidylcholine component of lecithin also helps in lowering cholesterol levels, removing cholesterol from tissue deposits and inhibiting platelet aggregation. (8)

Coenzyme Q10 has antioxidant ability which is important for protecting cells, especially of the heart from free radical damage. Co Q 10 plays a fundamental role in energy-releasing reactions in the body, this is critical for the action of the heart pumping blood to and from the lungs.

Evening primrose oil provides essential omega-6 fatty acids important constituents of cell membranes and precursors of the hormone-like prostaglandins.

Fish oil provides essential omega-3 fatty acids important precursors of prostaglandins involved in many body functions including circulatory health.

Amino Acids are the building blocks of protein they have the ability when the sequences change, to form lots of combinations and therefore different proteins from enzymes to muscles.

Isoflavones derived from red clover may be used during the menopause to counteract the decreased production of oestrogen. When enriched, these isoflavones may also benefit circulation by reducing LDL levels in men.

Bromelain is an enzyme from pineapple; it may stop clots forming in the bloodstream and help lower blood pressure. (9)

Specialist nutrients

Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that in an uncooked state are essential for the structure of cells, and therefore, the way the body works. Essential fats are essential for life. They cannot be made in the body and must be obtained through plant and fish oils in the diet; there are no short-cuts!  The two main types of essential fat are omega 6 and omega 3. About 6% of total energy intake should come from polyunsaturated fats. Essential fats (GLA from omega 6; EPA and DHA from omega 3) are converted in the body to make hormone-like substances that help regulate blood pressure, inflammation, hormones and heart health.

Non-essential fats include saturated fats, hydrogenated fats, lard, commercial cooking oil, shortening used in pastries, biscuits; most margarines and spreads. No more than 10% of total energy intake should come from saturated fats. Too much saturated fat, trans-fat, or hydrogenated fat spoils the real benefit of polyunsaturated fat in the body.

Evening Primrose Oil Omega 6

Evening primrose oil has been shown to lower high serum cholesterol levels. (10) Dietary supplementation with evening primrose oil has also been shown to reduce blood clotting in people fed a normal or high fat diet. (11)

Studies have shown that GLA from evening primrose oil significantly reduces blood pressure and may also inhibit the development of hypertension. (12)

Fish Oil Omega 3

Consuming large amounts of fish or taking fish oil capsules can significantly reduce the risk of cardiac problems. The first study found that men who consumed the most fish, regardless of age or smoking habits, were 81% less likely to suffer a cardiac death compared to those who ate little or no fish. Men who consumed modest amounts of fish had a 72% lower risk of death. (13)

Fish oils have been found to have significant benefits on heart health, including reducing the likelihood of blood clotting (14); making the heart less prone to arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). (15)

Fish oil may have a role reducing homocysteine levels and reducing hypertension. (16)

Proanthocyanidins

Proanthocyanidins have antioxidant activity and are found in plants.

Pine Bark or Grape Seed Extract are particularly rich sources. They have been used in capillary fragility, varicose veins, veno-lymphatic insufficiency and skin health. (17)

Probiotics

Lactobacillus plantarum 299v significantly lowers concentrations of  cholesterol carrying LDLs and fibrinogen (a protein involved in the clotting cascade). Administration of L. plantarum 299v was shown in this study to lead to a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk factors and therefore could be useful as a protective agent in the primary prevention of heart disease. (18)

Herbs and Circulation

For centuries herbs have been used as nature's medicine, but modern medicine has tried to replace traditional herbal therapies and the over-use of antibiotics, aspirin and pain killers demonstrates just how important herb products can be for maintaining optimum health and in particular, circulation.

 

Today's herbalists are documenting the successful use of herbs and understanding how herbs react with other medicines and with foods. Therefore, care should be taken when selecting herbs and this is often best done by choosing single herbs along with any other diet, lifestyle or supplements you might wish to use.

Different herbs may benefit circulation and nourish the blood, while others help strengthen the walls of capillaries and veins.

Choosing The Right Herb

Using single herb supplements enables correct selection or combining of herbs at potencies which can have the best effect. This is better than a pre-formulated complex of herbs, some of which may be unnecessary and may even restrict the suitability of the product when considering any medication that is being taken.

Potency can now be guaranteed

The production of herbal supplements has developed from a point where  quantities of active compounds which were unknown in the past, as a result of modern technology, can be identified to help prove the potency of a herb  formula. It is equally important that all of the naturally occurring compounds in the herb plant and the natural balance of those compounds are also contained in the herb extracts.

Standardised Extracts

Standardised Extracts are the most reliable form for a herb supplement as it guarantees the potency and ratio of naturally occurring herb compounds

throughout the dispensing, blending and tabletting of the finished product and its stability and shelf-life thereafter.

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) 

A perennial shrub originating from northern and central Europe. The active compounds in bilberry, anthocyanosides, maintain the structural integrity of capillaries and stabilise collagen. Bilberry may also be used for hypertension, arteriosclerosis, haemorrhages, capillary fragility and varicose veins. (19)

Butcher's Broom (Ruscus aculeatus)

A spiny, small-leafed evergreen bush native to the  Mediterranean region and Northwest Europe. Butcher's broom is anti-inflammatory and is useful for varicose veins, leg cramps, haemorrhoids, capillary weakness and bruising and has positive effects on circulation. (20)

Garlic (Allium sativum)

The fresh or dried garlic bulb is popular in cooking. Garlic may be used fresh, dried, as oil, or as an extract (preferably aged), as a medicinal herb.

Extensive research over centuries has time and again, qualified the use of garlic in protecting against heart disease and strokes, together with a healthy diet and lifestyle. (20)

The efficacy of Aged Garlic Extract and the positive management of blood-fats, cholesterol and blood pressure has been supported by extensive research. (21)

Aged Garlic Extract (AGE)

There is much research to support the use of AGE in managing cholesterol levels. It does this by reducing the LDL (low density lipoproteins) and increasing the HDL (high density lipoproteins). Aged Garlic Extract is grown organically and produced using a cold ageing extraction process. This gives it unique antioxidant properties important for healthy circulation.

Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)

A perennial herb that grows in the prairies of Western America. Echinacea root extract provides the active ingredient cichoric acid which has been effectively used as an immunostimulant. (22) The polysaccharide and polyacetylene fractions of the herb stimulate B-lymphocyte production. (23)

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

Native to South East Asia. It has a warming effect attributed to the gingerols, zingerone and shogaols present in the root. Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and has been used in lowering blood pressure and reducing cholesterol levels. When used as a tea it may help reduce cholesterol levels. (9)

Ginkgo biloba

A deciduous tree that can live for a thousand years. The traditional use of Ginkgo leaves was first recorded in 2800BC. The leaves are 'bilobal' that is, two-lobed, or similar to the maidenhair fern. It has been shown to improve circulation to all parts of the body including the brain, hands and feet. It has also been used for related conditions such as tinnitus, Alzheimer's, Raynaud's syndrome, numbness and tingling, migraine and erectile dysfunction. (20)

Green Tea (Camelia sinensis)

An evergreen tree or shrub originally from southern Yunnan and Indian province Assam, then cultivated in China, Japan, North Africa and the Middle East. It is the same plant from which black tea is made. The only difference being that green tea has not been fermented, whereas black tea has. It has been found to benefit total  cholesterol levels and has a positive effect on cardiovascular disease. Green teas have potent antioxidant activity and are used to help prevent cellular damage by scavenging oxygen free radicals. (20)

Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha)

A thorny tree or shrub that is native to Europe. The fruit and flowers of hawthorn are used medicinally and were traditionally used as a heart medicine by the   Romans. It has been found to increase cardiovascular health by dilating the blood vessels and increasing heart muscle metabolism. It can be used to maintain overall health of the heart and has also been shown to improve energy within the heart.

Hawthorn flavonoids have the ability to increase intracellular vitamin C levels and protect vitamin C from being destroyed by oxidation. It also helps decrease capillary fragility. (20)

Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

Native to Asia and Northern Greece and now cultivated in many areas in Europe. The fruit of the horse chestnut or "conker" tree has been used particularly for the treatment of varicose veins, chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), and related vascular disorders, (24) due to its effect in strengthening cell membranes of veins and capillaries.

Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)

Grows in rocky soils in Southern and Western Europe and some parts of the United States. This herb has strong antioxidant activity and is mostly popular for its role in liver health which has an effect on the whole body. It also reduces plaque formation and may lower total cholesterol. (9)

Do not take herbs with prescribed medication. Consult a qualified Practitioner

References

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2 Collins Dictionary of Biology. W. G. Hale and J. P. Margham. Collins. 1998.
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8 Brook JG, Linn S, and Aviram M, Dietary soya lecithin decreases plasma triglyceride levels and inhibits collagen- and ADP-induced platelet aggregation. Biochem Med Metabol Biol 35, 31-39, 1986.
9 Prescription for Herbal Healing Phyllis A. Balch, CNC. 2002. Avery.
10 Lipids, 1997,32;10:1069-1074.
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16 Whelton PK, Kumanyika SK, and Cook NR. Efficacy of nonpharmacologic interventions in adults with high-normal BP: results from phase 1 of the Trials of Hypertension Prevention. Am J Clin Nutr 65: 652S-660S, 1997.
17 Henriet JP, Phenologie 46,313-325, 1993.
18 Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Dec; 76(6):1249-55.
19 Mian E, et al.: Anthocyanosides and the walls of microvessels: Further aspects of the mechanism of action of their protective effect in syndromes due to abnormal capillary fragility. Minerva Med 68, 3565-3581, 1977.
20 The Healing Power of Herbs, M Murray ND. Prima, 1995.
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24 Herbal Medicines, C Newall & L Anderson, 1996. General Reference: "BMA Complete Family Health Encyclopedia", Ed. Dr. T. Smith. 1996. DK.

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