Have you ever wondered why the French are carefree about tobacco smoking and wine consumption? Their diet is high in sugars and fats, and vegetarianism is virtually unknown to them a perfect recipe for strokes, heart attack and atherosclerosis. However, paradoxically, the French have the lowest cardiovascular disease mortality rate in the western world (B. Schwitters & J Masqueller, OPC: In Practice, The Hidden Story of Proanthocyadine; Rome, 1994).
This puzzling situation has been connected with red wine consumption, which in France rates among the highest in the western world. In fact, the life expectancy of French men and women is among the highest in the world. It is the oligomeric proanthocyanidine (OPC) in the grape seeds processed in French red wine that has been found to have this amazing protective effect against cardiovascular degenerative problems (C. Kilham, OPC: The Miracle Antioxidant, 1997; Keats Publishing).
A key risk factor for heart disease is thought to be high consumption of saturated fat. This has been linked to low density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad" cholesterol), which causes atherosclerosis, the furring up of arteries. Besides drinking wine, there are other corrective measures that we can take, if we think this sort of damage has been done.
We have recently become aware that correcting nutritional deficiencies can also correct the problem. Such deficiencies allow the amino acid homocysteine to increase in the bloodstream of patients. There is a very clear relationship between concentrations of homocysteine and the risks of both heart attacks and strokes. In addition, vitamin C levels are low in those who are at a higher risk of heart disease, such as elderly males and tobacco smokers.
Taking just a small amount of vitamin E (even just 25 IU per day) counteracts LDL oxidation and stops the formation of blood clots. Two excellent studies from Harvard University demonstrated that those who took upwards from 100 IU/day of vitamin E reduced their risk of heart disease substantially, even when adjusted for all the known risk factors.
A special feature of these investigations is that they clearly show that the risk reduction is simply due to the protective effect of vitamin E intake. Double blind, placebo controlled trials established that 100-750 IU/day of vitamin E significantly reduced the appearance of both angina and heart attacks (N Engl J Med, 1993; 328: 1444-9). Vitamin E can even protect against alcoholic cardiomyopathy (drinker's heart) .
Please note that high doses of vitamin E are not recommended for those people who suffer from hypertension, rheumatic heart disease, and certain other conditions, except under close supervision by a qualified health practitioner.
Vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid are all intricately involved in the metabolism of homocysteine; the lower the level of these vitamins, the higher the metabolism of this amino acid.
Copper deficiency can damage the heart and arteries. Supplements of 3 mg of copper daily can lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL ("good" cholesterol) (Nutr Rep Int, 1987; 36: 641-50). High levels of zinc intake are well known to block copper from being absorbed. Therefore, a low copper intake, together with a very high zinc intake, may bring about an increased risk of heart disease. It is, perhaps, as well to have both the copper and zinc levels checked periodically.
Finally, magnesium deficiency is also linked to heart disease. Magnesium supplementation can reduce the risk of angina, cardiac arrest and death.
In one study, in 17 patients examined the day after coronary bypass surgery, magnesium was found to help prevent the blood pressure raising effects of adrenaline without affecting the heart rate or function. In other words, magnesium prevented coronary artery constriction (Anaesthesiology, 1991; 74: 973-9).
Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, osteopath and homeopath.