Let Food Be Thy Medicine For Heart Disease

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Heart disease is still our number one killer and it doesn’t look like it’ll be going away any time soon. Why? Well, there are many factors involved, but one clear reason is fat-heavy, sugar-heavy diets. But here’s a question to consider: just as food can cause the problem, could food also solve the problem? We think so.

Let’s join together and make heart health a top priority for 2012. To accomplish this, we believe there are two important areas to target: vascular inflammation and endothelial cells.

Inflammation is Like Smoldering Embers Ready to Ignite

We’ve always taught that inflammation is the common denominator of age-related disease. And this is especially true for the cardiovascular system. Inflammation is always smoldering in the background causing damage — slowly but surely — to cells and tissues.

But the scary part is that all it needs is a trigger to amplify and accelerate the damage inflicted on important body structures like blood vessels. The inflammatory response can damage blood vessels and the endothelium promoting arterial plaque growth and blood clots.1

It’s not exactly clear how inflammation inflicts its damaging effects, but one mechanism involves the enzyme, phospholipase-A2. As inflammation ignites, the enzyme is overexpressed within the wall of an artery and it begins to degrade fat. The result is a robust immune response within the arterial wall which can make the plaque unstable and making it prone to rupture. Researchers believe that this enzyme is the link between atherosclerosis and inflammation.2

If we’re serious about making 2012 the year of a healthy heart, then easing inflammation and inhibiting phospholipase-A2 has to be a top priority.

It’s about Location, Location, Location

The endothelium is located within the inner most part of the arterial wall. If this delicate tissue is healthy, then most likely the rest of the cardiovascular system is also healthy. Endothelial cells produce nitric oxide (endothelial derived relaxation factor or EDRF) which is responsible for vasodilatation — an important property of healthy arteries.

Scientists have long known that injury to the endothelium is the first step in arterial plaque development. Injury can come from high blood pressure, inflammation, high fat and sugar diets and even infections. Humans with atherosclerosis, diabetes, or hypertension often show impaired NO pathways.3

Healthy Heart Foods & Tea

We’ve put together the following tables to highlight the top healthy food and tea choices for targeting vascular inflammation and endothelial cell health. Eat and drink as much of them as you can, every day for the best results.

Please note: This is not an exhaustive listing. These are the choices we wanted to highlight based on solid evidence in the literature.

Vascular Inflammation
Food Research Evidence
Oily fish like salmon, sardines, anchovies
Suppress multiple steps in the inflammatory process and limit the production of inflammatory cytokines.4,5
Whole grains like quinoa, bulgur wheat, barley, oats, rye
Lower CRP, a marker of inflammation, and are helpful in several different types of inflammatory conditions like heart disease arthritis.6
Flax seeds
Flax seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid which has been shown to lower CRP.7
Black Tea
Research has shown that unique compounds present in black tea called theaflavins can have multiple applications for arterial health.8 In particular, theaflavins can suppress inflammatory proteins.9

Endothelial Health
Food Research Evidence
Pomegranates support the endothelial cells by protecting them from free radical attack.11 Additionally, this super fruit prevents the oxidative breakdown of nitric oxide while enhancing its biological effects.10
Dark Berries
The darker the better! Dark berries are rich source of anthocyanins. These powerful antioxidants fight against oxidative stress, protecting endothelial cells from free radical damage.11
Seeds, walnuts and almonds These foods are not only high in fiber but also are rich sources of arginine, which is the precursor to nitric oxide. Remember, the more nitric oxide the more pliable the arteries.

Hippocrates once said, “Let food be thy medicine and thy medicine be food.” Well, let’s collectively do just that. We need to put heart disease in its place, for good.

By the way, we would love to hear about your favorite heart-healthy foods. Tell us in the comments below!


  1. Ann Rheum Dis. 2012 Jan 18. [Epub ahead of print]
  2. Thromb Res. 2012 Jan 24. [Epub ahead of print]
  3. Dessy, C.; Ferron, O. (2004). "Pathophysiological Roles of Nitric Oxide: In the Heart and the Coronary Vasculature". Current Medical Chemistry – Anti-Inflammatory & Anti-Allergy Agents in Medicinal Chemistry 3 (3): 207–216.doi:10.2174/1568014043355348.
  4. J Nutr Biochem. 2003 Sep;14(9):513–21.
  5. Nutr Clin Pract. 2009 Aug-Sep;24(4):508-12.
  6. J Nutr. 2010 Mar;140(3):587-94.
  7. Obes Surg. 2007 Mar;17(3):341-7.
  8. J Nutr. 2003 Oct;133(10):3298S-3302S.
  9. Crit Care Med. 2004 Oct;32(10):2097-103.
  10. Nitric Oxide. 2006 Sep;15(2):93-102. Epub 2006 Apr 19.
  11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21785847


Unknown said...

This blog is nice and amazing. I love your post! It's also nice to see someone who does a lot of research and has a great knack for ting, which is pretty rare from bloggers these days.
Blood pressure

Jems said...

Hello Michael A. Smith,
Let Food Be Thy Medicine is the ultimate source for the most sought information on diet and health. It includes a summary of 750 scientific and medical studies showing the personal and planetary benefits of whole foods.
There are summaries of hundreds of new medical studies, including the latest research on diet and cancer, heart disease, diabetes, children's health, women's health, and the environment. Dozens of new subjects have been added, including Alzheimer's disease, ADD, autism, eating disorders, fluoridation, global warming, and nuclear radiation.
Thank you

Anonymous said...

to combat inflammation i drink fresh ginger tea. :)

LifeExtension said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LifeExtension said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

A great piece of research which shows that, with just a few tweaks in diet we can all reap the benefits of better heart management. This makes me feel good too as some of my personal diet alterations this year have included all the mentioned foods-great feeling.

Life Extension said...

Anonymous - A good diet can definitely make a difference for heart health.

Post a Comment

All Contents Copyright ©2020 Life Extension® All rights reserved.
Privacy Notice | Terms of Use
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
The information provided on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. You should not use the information on this site for diagnosis or treatment of any health problem or for prescription of any medication or other treatment. You should consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet, exercise or supplementation program, before taking any medication, or if you have or suspect you might have a health problem. You should not stop taking any medication without first consulting your physician.