3 Nutrients That Might Help In The Fight Against Heart Disease By Kevin DiDonato MS, CSCS, CES Heart disease is still one of the leading causes of death around the world and particularly in the United States. Medications, exercise, and diet have been shown to be beneficial in reducing your risk for developing heart disease. Lower sodium and lower fat diets have been shown to reduce not only blood pressure, but also cholesterol. Ways to reduce your risk factor for heart disease are: exercise, management of stress and chronic disease, and reducing cholesterol. The following are three nutrients that are getting a lot of media attention for their possible role in reducing cholesterol levels and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Phytosterols Phytosterols are naturally occurring compounds found in most vegetables and have protective effects on the heart. Another name for phytosterols is plant sterols, which have been shown to positively affect cholesterol levels in the body, even with high fat and saturated fat diets that are low in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and fiber. Research done by Sialvera et al, demonstrated that a small amount of phytosterols (4g) introduced into yogurt, showed a decrease in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides by 16%, 20%, and 19% respectively. They also determined that a reduction of LDL cholesterol by 10% is what is recommended in order to reduce the risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease. In an analysis of current research, Veloso et al confirmed the findings of Sialvera and others in the benefit of plant sterols on heart health. They showed that taking in the recommended dosage of 2g per day did alter the lipid profile, and that taking in more than the recommended dosage resulted in a further decrease in CHD in the general population. Cocoa The newest polyphenol showing positive effects on cholesterol is cocoa. The main use of the cocoa bean is the seed and that is where we get the most decadent treat from. However, there is a possible benefit from the outer layer that protects the seed. Cocoa contains another type of polyphenol called Flavonol, which is a derivative of Flavonoids. The exact flavonols in cocoa that have been shown effective in fighting high cholesterol are epicatechin and catechins. Research done by Khan et al, demonstrated that ingesting 40g of cocoa powder and 500 ml of skim milk had positive effects on blood cholesterol. There was a 14% reduction of oxidized LDL cholesterol, and a 5% increase of HDL cholesterol was shown. There was also a higher concentration of cocoa polyphenols metabolites found in the urine of these patients. Each subject was considered high risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The reason for the positive benefits of cocoa was examined further by Yasuda et al. Their research shows that the polyphenols associated with cocoa, have been shown to decrease the main transportation vehicle of LDL cholesterol in the body. They also showed that cocoa is associated with an increase in sterol regulatory element-binding proteins which is the main component on cholesterol metabolism and biosynthesis. Krill Oil Not only do plant sterols and cocoa aid as cholesterol-lowering nutrients, but there is a new kid on the block in the realm of fish oil. Krill oil, which is getting more media attention, has been shown to be more effective at lowering total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol. Krill has been shown to be low in saturated fat and monounsaturated fats, and high in polyunsaturated fats. The polyunsaturated fats, ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA have been shown beneficial in reducing cardiovascular disease, which have been found to be abundant in Krill and Krill oil. Research done by Bunea et al, demonstrated that high doses of Krill oil reduced triglycerides by almost 28%. They also found that a low dose of Krill oil reduced LDL cholesterol by 32% to 36% and that a high dose resulted in a 37% to 39% reduction. On HDL cholesterol, they found that low dose krill oil increased HDL by 43% to 44% and higher doses resulted in an increase of 55% to 60%. Not only do diet and exercise contribute to higher levels of good cholesterol and heart health, but making little changes to your diet to include these three potent nutrients may contribute to overall better heart health. References N. Khan, M. Monagas, C. Andres-Lacueva, R. Casas, M. Urpí-Sardà, R.M. Lamuela-Raventós, R. Estruch. Regular consumption of cocoa powder with milk increases HDL cholesterol and reduces oxidized LDL levels in subjects at high-risk of cardiovascular disease. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1016/j.physletb.2003.10.071 A. Yasuda, M. Natsume, N. Osakabe, K. Kawahata, J. Koga. Cacao Polyphenols Influence the Regulation of Apolipoprotein in HepG2 and Caco2 Cells. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2011, 59 (4), pp 1470–1476 K. Musa-Veloso, T.H. Poon, J.A. Elliot, C. Chung. A comparison of the LDL- cholesterol lowering efficacy of plant stanols and plant sterols over a continuous dose range: Results of a meta-analysis of randomized, placebo-controlled trials. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids Published. Vol 85 Issue 1. July 2011: pp.9-28.