Coronary heart disease (CHD) occurs when plaque builds up inside your arteries. This build-up will eventually lead to atherosclerosis, which is basically the hardening of your arteries. Too much plaque inside your arteries will narrow, and reduce blood flow to your heart.
The smaller the blood flow, the less oxygen your heart gets. As a result you may start experiencing coronary heart disease symptoms such as chest pain, discomfort, pressure, tightness, dizziness, weakness or fatigue when you exercise or feel stressed.
How To Prevent Coronary Heart Disease?
The single best way to prevent coronary heart disease is to eat a heart-friendly diet. There’s nothing more important for your body than to get the nutrients it needs to keep your arteries clean.
Fortunately, nature offers an abundance of specific nutrients that come with amazing heart-protecting properties.
The following list of nutrients are definitely something you’ll want to focus on eating more of if heart health is a concern for you.
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is usually associated with bone health, but clinical evidence shows that it is just as important in the prevention of coronary heart disease (1).
In fact, individuals with vitamin D deficiencies have up to twice the risk of experiencing a cardiac-related event, such as a heart attack or stroke (2).
Exactly how vitamin D prevents heart problems is still not fully understood, but the connection is strong.
You can find out your vitamin D levels with a simple blood test at your doctor’s office. Your levels should be between 30-60 ng/ml (3).
Vitamin D is produced in the body via sun exposure, but there are also several dietary sources of vitamin D (4).
Eggs, sardines, mushrooms, and salmon are all great sources of vitamin D.
Aim for 1000-2000 international units (IU) per day. Combined with at least 10-15 minutes of sun exposure daily, there should be no need for supplementation.
Magnesium is a trace mineral used by every cell in the body (5). In addition to reducing inflammation, magnesium can help keep blood vessels healthy and improve cardiac function (6). This may help prevent heart blockage. Some researchers even believe that magnesium deficiency is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease in the United States (7).
This is because higher magnesium intake is associated with a significantly reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) in long-term studies (8). Normal blood magnesium levels should be between 1.5-2.5 mEq/L.
Unfortunately, less than 20% of Americans get their daily recommended intake of magnesium: around 320 mg/day for women and 420 mg/day for men (9). Magnesium supplements are always an option, but nothing replaces the effectiveness of dietary sources. The best magnesium sources include cashews, almonds, avocados, and figs.
Calcium is absolutely vital to cardiac muscle function. Without adequate calcium, the heart cannot contract and relax the way it’s supposed to (10). Too little calcium is associated with abnormal heart rhythms, among other adverse effects. Too much calcium, on the other hand, can result in incomplete heart contractions.
The daily recommended intake for calcium is between 1000-1300 mg. More than 2000 mg/day seems to cause issues, according to some clinical trials (11). Normal blood serum calcium levels are between 8.5-10.2 mg/dL.
When possible, do your best to get all calcium from dietary sources. A study at Johns Hopkins found that calcium supplements may actually increase the risk of coronary atherosclerosis (12). Your best food sources of calcium will include dark salmon, dried figs, bok choy, and tofu.
Every muscle fiber in your body requires potassium to contract. So, an imbalance of potassium can cause a multitude of issues throughout your body (13). Given the delicate rhythm of heartbeats, your heart is easily affected.
Potassium deficiency (hypokalemia) is just as likely to cause heart palpitations as an overabundance (hyperkalemia) (14). If you are at risk for a heart condition or have a family history of CHD, get your potassium levels checked regularly. A normal blood potassium level would be between 3.6-5.2 mmol/L.
Foods high in potassium include tomatoes, avocados, bananas, potatoes, and spinach. The World Health Organization recommends at least 3510 mg/day of potassium for adults. However, certain medications can affect your potassium levels, so be sure to check with your doctor if you are taking anything (15).
5. Vitamin B6
There are an increasing number of studies being published that show B-vitamin supplementation decreases the risk of death from CHD (16,17).
Also known as pyridoxine, vitamin B6 is one of the three B vitamins recommended as supplementation (the others being folate and B12).
The Institute of Medicine recommends between 1.3-1.7 mg/day of vitamin B6, with no more than 100 mg/day recommended. The reference range for a normal vitamin B6 blood test is between 5-50 µg/L.
The best food sources of B6 include beans, poultry, fish, dark leafy greens, and oranges (18). Review vitamin supplementation with your doctor, as prescription or injectable B vitamins may be best.
There are a few different names for this vitamin: folic acid (synthetic folate), folate, and vitamin B9. It is usually associated with pregnancy to prevent birth defects, but the benefits don’t end at birth.
Several studies now show that increased folate levels are associated with 10% lower of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and/or death from it (19,20).
A normal folate range in blood tests is between 2-20 ng/mL. The recommended daily intake of folate is 400-600 mcg (21). Foods rich in folic acid include asparagus, broccoli, eggs, spinach, and sunflower seeds (22).
7. Vitamin B12
B12 deficiencies are serious, but often go unnoticed. This is because the symptoms (fatigue, joint pain, etc…) mimic other common conditions, causing most people to brush it off (23).
Your body needs B12 for proper nerve function, to make red blood cells, support your immune system, and support heart health. Studies show that vegetarians are more likely to suffer from B12 deficiency, but it can happen to anyone (24).
Vitamin B12 is only found in animals and animal products, which is why vegans and vegetarians must supplement. Think eggs, dairy products, and meats. The recommended daily intake for B12 is 2.4-2.8 mcg (25).
A normal B12 serum blood test is between 150-400 ng/L. As we get older, however, it is harder for our bodies to absorb, so supplementation is strongly recommended after age 50.
8. Thiamine B1
Also known as thiamin, vitamin B1 plays a number of roles in the body, including the metabolism of carbohydrates (26).
Thiamine deficiency affects both the central and peripheral nervous systems, not to mention almost every organ. In fact, most people diagnosed with congestive heart failure also have a thiamine deficiency (27).
The reference range for a B1 blood test is between 2.5-7.5 µg/dL. The recommended daily intake for B1 is around 1.1 mg for the average adult (28). Thiamine-rich foods include whole grains, leafy and dark colored vegetables, legumes, and animal meats/products.
9. Vitamin K2
K2 is a lesser known and understood vitamin (compared to others on this list), but new research shows that it is just as important (29).
As it turns out, vitamin K2 aids the body in metabolizing calcium to protect the coronary arteries and blood vessels. This is an important finding for those susceptible to coronary occlusions or at risk for ischemic heart disease (30).
Discuss your vitamin K intake with your doctor if you are on blood thinners, as it can cause interactions (31, 32).
A fat-soluble vitamin, K2 is found naturally in grass-fed dairy products and eggs. The recommended daily intake for vitamin K is approximately 120 mcg for men and 90 mcg for women (33).
The reference range for a normal vitamin K blood test is between 0.2-3.2 ng/mL. Since vitamin K is not easily absorbed, it is recommended to aim for more than these amounts in your diet.
The American Heart Association recommends at least two servings of fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids every week (34). The addition of these healthy fats significantly reduces the mortality rates associated with cardiac arrest (35).
Omega-3s are healthy, essential fats that the body needs from outside sources. It can help to reduce triglycerides, the risk of certain cancers, and inflammation throughout the body (36).
As mentioned above, two servings of fish every week is highly recommended. Unofficial recommendations for those who aren’t big fans of fish would be around 250-500 mgs/day in healthy adults.
The normal reference range for an Omega-3 index blood test is 1.4-4.9%. For those at risk for, or who already suffer from coronary heart disease, your doctor may recommend a higher dosage.
Quercetin is a type of antioxidant with particularly beneficial effects on heart disease. It has an incredible ability to reduce blood pressure and inflammatory factors in clinical trials (37,38). Individuals with hypertension, coronary heart disease, and/or clogged arteries will benefit the most from this supplement (39).
Studies show that between 100-250 mg/day of quercetin is safe and beneficial.
Do not exceed more than 1g/day without consulting your doctor first (40). Quercetin is found naturally in apples, onions, red wine, olive oil, and dark berries (41).
Even though it’s not a true vitamin, Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is found in every cell in the body. Your body produces CoQ10 in small amounts to help convert food into energy.
However, supplementing with it shows protective effects on the heart, especially after a heart attack (42, 43).
The normal reference range for total CoQ10 blood test is 433-1,532 mcg/L. Supplementation with CoQ10, between 100-200 mg per day is recommended (44). Dietary sources of CoQ10 include organ meats, sardines, and peanuts (45).
This naturally occurring amino acid is a common supplement for athletes. L-carnitine transports fatty acids into your cells for energy usage (46). The effectiveness of L-carnitine as a training supplement is limited to those with a deficiency (47).
However, it has therapeutic effects in the treatment of congestive heart failure and the overall improvement of cardiac function (48, 49). According to the Mayo Clinic, L-carnitine is found to be especially effective when used after a heart attack (50).
Your body makes L-carnitine, so there’s no recommended daily intake. A normal serum free carnitine blood test result would be between 19.3-53.9 µmol/L for females and 38.8-69.5 µmol/L for males.
For those deficient or looking to supplement, between 500-2000 mg/day is considered standard (51). However, your doctor may recommend a different dosage for certain medical conditions.
Lycopene is a carotenoid shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antithrombotic effects on the body (52).
This combination makes it a wonderful nutrient for the prevention and treatment of coronary heart disease.
One study found that men with high amounts of lycopene in their blood were 55% less likely to suffer a stroke (53).
Lycopene is found in the highest amounts in guava, watermelon, and tomatoes. There is not yet an established supplemental dosage for lycopene, but some researchers recommend between 9-30+ mg/day (54, 55).
Most often associated with red wine, resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant. The exact reason why resveratrol seems to have preventative effects on cardiovascular disease is yet unknown, but it seems to improve HDL cholesterol (56, 57).
As you may have guessed, resveratrol is found in red grapes and regular grape juice. It is also found in mulberries and peanuts (58).
There is no current recommended intake for resveratrol, but research studies use anywhere from 5-500 mg/day in healthy individuals (59).