In the fourth century B.C., the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle described the heart as the most important organ and the center of vitality in the body. His belief that the heart possessed intelligence and controlled body movement formed the ‘cardiocentric hypothesis’ (1).
Unsurprisingly, however, this hypothesis has been long debunked by modern science. Nevertheless, the heart does possess some amazing properties. For example, the heart contains pacemaker cells that generate electrical currents that cause the heart’s automatic contractions. Your heart contracts, or “beats,” approximately 100,000 times each day!
This hard-working is about the size of a fist and must pump blood throughout your body by a complex network of blood vessels. Keeping the heart healthy is critical in delivering oxygen and nutrients to every cell in your body while also removing metabolic waste and carbon dioxide.
What constitutes “healthy functioning” of the heart?
Supporting Healthy Blood flow
Like all the other cells in the body that receive oxygen and nutrients, heart cells require the same. Therefore, efficient circulation in the arteries around the heart (the coronary arteries) is critical. Certain dietary components, such as nitrate-rich vegetables, are beneficial in maintaining that healthy blood flow.
Unlike other nitrate-rich foods, such as processed meats, nitrates from vegetables have a beneficial impact on circulatory health (2-4). When nitrates are absorbed, the body converts them to nitrites, which may be converted into nitric oxide under certain circumstances. Nitric oxide can support blood flow by causing vasodilation of the arteries (5).
In addition to their antioxidants and polyphenols, dietary nitrates may be one of the key “heart-healthy” components contributing to the benefits of eating vegetables (especially the green leafy kind such as arugula, kale, and spinach) (2,3).
Maintaining Healthy Cholesterol Levels
Cholesterol is essential for life as it is critical for maintaining cellular structures and as a precursor for producing sex hormones and vitamin D. While some cholesterol is good, having more cholesterol in your body than it can use may ultimately impair cardiovascular health (6).
Genetics plays a significant role, but lifestyle factors such as your diet and physical activity strongly influence cholesterol levels in the body. These lifestyle factors can help you manage cholesterol levels and help to keep your heart healthy (7). One dietary approach to control cholesterol levels is to consume plant sterols. These compounds help lower blood cholesterol levels by reducing the amount of dietary cholesterol that your body can absorb from foods and helping you eliminate more cholesterol (8).
Management of Oxidative Stress
The heart requires a tremendous amount of oxygen to work continuously. Through a process known as aerobic metabolism, oxygen is used in specialized components of the heart cells called mitochondria to generate energy for the heart (and hence, the whole body).
Unfortunately, this metabolic process – while necessary for life – comes with a “downside”; which is, the generation of reactive oxygen species. Under normal and healthy physiological conditions, the body can efficiently detoxify these species. However, if left unchecked, these metabolic byproducts can increase oxidative stress, damaging cellular structures of the heart (9). In addition, as we age, we are less equipped to handle this oxidative stress. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise and healthy nutritional choices can help prevent the harmful effects of oxidative stress.
Sound nutrition and healthful choices are essential for managing many of the factors that can support the healthy functioning of the heart. While dietary supplements can’t take the place of heart-healthy lifestyle choices, some nutrients may be beneficial for supporting the functions we just covered. For example, research has shown that nitrate-rich vegetable concentrates or shots, such as AMPED™ NOx, can support blood flow (10). The plant sterols found in Heart Shake Booster may support healthy cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease* (11). Finally, the Isagenix system of Shake Days and Cleanse Days helped reduce oxidative stress and increase antioxidant defenses during weight loss (12).
Aristotle may have been wrong about what the heart can do, but he wasn’t wrong about its central importance in keeping us healthy. We’d like to return the favor and take a ‘Cardiocentric’ mindset regarding nutrition and nutritional support.
*Foods containing at least 0.65 g per serving of plant sterol esters, eaten twice a day with meals for a total daily intake of at least 1.3 g, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. A serving of Heart Shake Booster supplies 0.65 grams of plant sterol esters.
Beloukas AI, Magiorkinis E, Tsoumakas TL, Kosma AG, Diamantis A. Milestones in the history of research on cardiac energy metabolism. Can J Cardiol. 2013 Nov;29(11):1504-11.
Van Duyn MA, Pivonka E. Overview of the health benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption for the dietetics professional: selected literature. J Am Diet Assoc. 2000 Dec;100(12):1511-21.
Joshipura KJ, Hu FB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Rimm EB, Speizer FE, Colditz G, Ascherio A, Rosner B, Spiegelman D, Willett WC. The effect of fruit and vegetable intake on risk for coronary heart disease. Ann Intern Med. 2001 Jun 19;134(12):1106-14.
McKnight GM, Duncan CW, Leifert C, Golden MH. Dietary nitrate in man: friend or foe? Br J Nutr. 1999 May;81(5):349-58.
Jonvik KL, Nyakayiru J, Pinckaers PJ, Senden JM, van Loon LJ, Verdijk LB. Nitrate-Rich Vegetables Increase Plasma Nitrate and Nitrite Concentrations and Lower Blood Pressure in Healthy Adults. J Nutr. 2016 May;146(5):986-93.
American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Heart disease and stroke statistics–2015 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2015 Jan 27;131(4):e29-322.
American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014 Jul 1;63(25 Pt B):2960-84.
Malina DM, Fonseca FA, Barbosa SA, Kasmas SH, Machado VA, França CN, Borges NC, Moreno RA, Izar MC. Additive effects of plant sterols supplementation in addition to different lipid-lowering regimens. J Clin Lipidol. 2015 Jul-Aug;9(4):542-52.
Martín-Fernández B, Gredilla R. Mitochondria and oxidative stress in heart aging. Age. 2016 Aug;38(4):225-238.
Sweazea KL, Johnston CS, Miller B, Gumpricht E. Nitrate-Rich Fruit and Vegetable Supplement Reduces Blood Pressure in Normotensive Healthy Young Males without Significantly Altering Flow-Mediated Vasodilation: A Randomized, Double-Blinded, Controlled Trial. J Nutr Metab. 2018 Sep 16;2018:1729653.
Amir Shaghaghi M, Abumweis SS, Jones PJH. Cholesterol-lowering efficacy of plant sterols/stanols provided in capsule and tablet formats: results of a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013 Nov;113(11):1494-1503.
He F, Zuo L, Ward E, Arciero PJ. Serum Polychlorinated Biphenyls Increase and Oxidative Stress Decreases with a Protein-Pacing Caloric Restriction Diet in Obese Men and Women. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017 Jan 10;14(1):59.