Should You Supplement with the Amino Acid GABA?

Discover the science behind GABA supplements, what this neurotransmitter does, and whether or not it’s effective in treating stress, insomnia, high blood pressure, and anxiety disorders. 

Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid that functions as a neurotransmitter in our brains. Low GABA levels are known to be associated with movement and anxiety disorders, so some people will take GABA supplements to help improve the function of their minds and central nervous systems. Read on to find out how GABA works, and whether or not it may be appropriate for you.

What Is GABA? How Does GABA Work? Where Can You Find It?

GABA is classified as an inhibitory neurotransmitter due to its ability to block certain signals in the brain. GABA decreases activity in the central nervous system and binds with proteins in the brain known as GABA receptors, which creates a calming effect that helps ameliorate feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety. GABA may also help prevent seizures.

Because of these abilities, GABA has become a popular dietary supplement.

For those who want to know how to increase GABA naturally, GABA is found in oolong, black, and green tea, and fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, kefir, and tempeh. GABA production can be boosted by other foods, including nuts like almonds and walnuts, seafood like halibut and shrimp, whole grains, soy, beans, sunflower seeds, spinach, broccoli, fava, tomatoes, citrus fruits, berries, and cocoa.

Who Should Take GABA Supplements?

The reason people take GABA supplements is to get better access to its calming influence on the brain. GABA supplements are thought to relieve stress, and in so doing improve your overall health, because excess stress can lead to a weakened immune system, poor sleep quality, and a higher risk for anxiety and depression. There are also some health conditions that are associated with lower levels of GABA, so if you have any of the following health concerns, then GABA supplementation may be good for you.

People may need more GABA if they have:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Depression
  • Hypertension
  • Insomnia
  • Panic disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Movement disorders (including Parkinson’s disease)
  • Seizure disorders

Consult a qualified health care professional if you’re on any other medications for these conditions, and ask your doctor if GABA supplements could help manage some of the symptoms associated with these disorders. If you’re considering taking a GABA supplement, read on to find out how upping your intake of GABA affects your brain cells and may help improve your quality of life.

The science behind GABA supplements.

Are GABA Supplements Effective?

Even when supplementing with GABA, research suggests that only small amounts actually make it past the blood-brain barrier and reach your nerve cells. However, when it comes to some of the following uses of GABA, every little bit can count. Here is what the scientific research has to say about the effect of GABA on the human body.

GABA for Anxiety and Depression

This 2003 review on GABA usage for anxiety asserts that GABA is known to counterbalance the affect of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, and plays a role in multiple neurobiological interactions that are relevant to those with anxiety disorders. It supports the use of GABAergic agents in treating anxiety, as does this 2012 article on the GABA system in anxiety and depression cases, which also points out that certain GABAA receptor modulators and GABAB antagonists could serve as potential antidepressants.

GABA for Insomnia

One small study from 2018 tested GABA on participants with insomnia and found that 300 milligrams of GABA taken an hour before going to sleep resulted in reports of people falling asleep faster and noting improved sleep quality in the first 4 weeks after starting GABA treatment. Though there were only 40 participants, these results suggest that effects of GABA supplements in humans may beneficially impact sleep habits.

GABA for High Blood Pressure

There are many studies that have evaluated GABA-containing products and their effectiveness at lowering blood pressure. A 2003 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming fermented milk with GABA helped significantly lower blood pressure levels in participants with elevated blood pressure in 2-4 weeks (compared to the placebo group). And a 2009 study revealed that consuming a GABA-containing chlorella supplement 2 times a day lowered the blood pressure of subjects with borderline hypertension.

GABA for Stress and Fatigue

In 2011 Japanese researchers found that consuming a beverage with either 25 or 50 milligrams of GABA resulted in reduced measurements of physical and mental fatigue during problem-solving tasks, with the higher dose being slightly more effective.

A 2009 study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition showed that consuming chocolate containing 28 milligrams of GABA also reduced stress in participants as they performed a problem-solving test. Yet again in 2012, capsules with 100 milligrams of GABA led to reduced stress during the performance of a mental task. While these are small studies, they nevertheless appear to consistently show that GABA helps reduce stress and fatigue in human beings.

The Potential Side Effects of GABA Supplements

Though the side effects of GABA have not been specifically studied, there have been some reported side effects from people taking GABA supplements, including:

  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sleepiness
  • Upset stomach

Since GABA appears to be useful in treating insomnia, it can cause feelings of sleepiness and shouldn’t be taken before driving or operating heavy machinery until you’re aware of how it affects you in whatever dosage you’re consuming it at.

There is also very little research done on GABA’s interaction potential with other supplements or medications, so it’s recommended that you seek medical advice if you’re currently taking any medication, particularly for insomnia, anxiety, or depression, and make sure that your doctor is aware of this or any other herb, supplement, or over-the-counter drug you’re consuming.

Go Gaga for GABA

GABA is a natural part of our body’s function, and plays an important role as a chemical messenger in our brains. Though the research on GABA as a supplement is somewhat skimpy, there are scientifically founded indications that it may help reduce anxiety, stress, high blood pressure, and insomnia.

It’s not just “supplements or bust” with GABA however, as practicing yoga can also lead to an increase of GABA levels, up to 27%! With a little yoga, some fermented foods, and the right GABA supplement, you could have all the bases covered when it comes to reducing the symptoms of certain dangerous medical conditions, and getting your brain in the right frame of mind.

Foods That Are High in Arginine

Arginine is a conditionally essential amino acid that helps support cardiovascular health, improves kidney function, and boosts the immune system. Explore its many functions, as well as which foods are good sources for arginine if you’re looking to give your body a stronger supply.

Arginine (also called L-arginine) is a conditionally essential amino acid that helps support cardiovascular health, improves kidney function, and boosts the immune system. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins in our bodies. Essential amino acids must come from our food sources or from ingesting a supplement, but conditionally or semi-essential amino acids are on the edge. Arginine, for example, is essential during our early years of childhood growth, but is usually nonessential in normally functioning healthy adults. However, because arginine is so valuable for so many processes in the body, foods high in arginine can help shore up your stores, and may be even more important in certain medical circumstances.

This article will explore what arginine does in the human body, who could use more of it, and which foods are good sources for arginine if you’re looking to give your body a stronger supply.

Arginine: Its Role in the Body

Here are some of the health benefits that might result from an extra intake of arginine. Research is still being conducted on this amino acid and how supplementing or concentrating it might help treat certain conditions, and so far the results look promising.

Blood and Heart Health

Arginine supplements are used to treat conditions such as excessive inflammation and chronic migraines. Arginine creates nitric oxide, which relaxes our blood vessels, improves blood flow, and therefore brings cardiovascular aid for certain people and conditions. For example, those with peripheral arterial disease, angina, heart disease, and even erectile dysfunction can find benefit from increased arginine. Arginine is also associated with shortening post-surgery recovery time and helps heal injuries.

The Immune System

Studies are beginning to show arginine’s immune-boosting effects, particularly with modulating some symptoms of herpes (flare-ups) and HIV (excessive weight loss), and there have even been correlations shown between low circulating arginine and cases of trauma and cancer. Though more research is needed, it’s a valuable discovery to know that arginine is often missing when the body is experiencing traumatic events.

Kidney Functioning

Not only is arginine helpful in assisting kidney function after transplantation, but it also appears to reduce kidney inflammation. Arginine is often studied in relation to kidney functioning to try to isolate which conditions it helps best and whether or not there’s any potential harm from enhanced levels of arginine. As a natural player on the body’s chemical stage, it’s a particularly safe facet to explore.

The Research Continues

Arginine has been studied in the contexts of helping diabetes, obesity, male fertility, hypertension, dementia, and cancer, and the research goes on still. Scientists and doctors work to pinpoint the best application of arginine treatment and to better define its powers of influence. As a naturally created amino acid that helps us grow and keeps our bodies functioning, it’s a promising reserve for testing.

Foods High in Arginine

Short of supplementation, you can always get arginine from certain natural food sources. So which foods are arginine foods, and are they easy to incorporate in your diet? Short answer to that last question: yes, these arginine-rich foods will be easy to find and to eat (you’ve surely tried a few if not all of them already). As for which foods you should eat more of if you want to up your arginine content? Take a look at the list of foods below and start thinking about which ones you’d like to incorporate into your diet as well as your dietary intake.

Foods high in the amino acid arginine.


Since arginine is derived in the body from protein, any high-protein food will help, but turkey breast in particular has such a substantial amount of arginine that it’s considered the best source around. With a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins to boot, one cooked turkey breast provides 16 grams of arginine.

Sunflower Seeds

Seeds and nuts have a fair amount of arginine, with sunflower and sesame seeds both contributing 2.4 grams of arginine per 100 grams of seeds. While they’re a tad low in arginine, they definitely make up in balance by providing a high amount of the essential amino acid lysine along with your arginine intake, so you don’t run the risk of overbalancing. Lysine helps absorb any excess of arginine, and will act as a check on keeping your amount of arginine within its optimal healthy levels.

Pork Loin

Another high-protein food, and with it comes another high contribution to your arginine content. Pork loin is one of the leaner cuts of pork you can get, so you’re not sacrificing one aspect of your health to favor another (balance is always key). Pork loin has 14 grams of arginine per rib, just second under the above-listed turkey breast.

Pumpkin Seeds

What did we say above about seeds, that some aren’t that impressive in the arginine department? Well, here’s an even better option then: a cup of pumpkin seeds can give you nearly 7 grams of arginine, as well as the minerals zinc and iron. Pumpkin seeds are easy to snack on and a great arginine-rich food for vegans or vegetarians who don’t eat animal products. Plus, they’re trail-mix-worthy and can be flavored sweet or salty depending on your taste.


Chicken is a staple of a diet rich in protein and low in fat. One chicken breast can contain up to 9 grams of arginine and can be combined easily with other potent sources of vitamins and minerals like beans and vegetables in meals and stews.


Another kind of chick, this time chickpeas, or as they’re also known, garbanzo beans, offer up fiber and protein (especially for those who don’t eat meat). A single cooked cup of chickpeas has at least 12 grams of fiber, over 14 grams of protein, and 1.3 grams of arginine. Enjoy it as hummus and know that it’s providing you with that little boost of arginine you’re looking for.


With vitamin E, vitamin B3, niacin, and folate, a cup of peanuts also gives you over 4 grams of arginine. Pine nuts, too, contain over 3 grams of arginine per cup, and a good helping of mixed nuts will almost certainly give you a fair amount of arginine, as there are levels of arginine in almonds, walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and pecans. Go nuts with nuts if you’re looking for foods high in arginine. Be squirrelly with them!


Another great protein and arginine source for non-meat eaters, soybeans and other soy products like tofu and tempeh provide potassium and magnesium. Soybeans specifically come with 4.6 grams of arginine per cup, and soybeans are also loaded with lysine for help balancing arginine.


Derived from a seawater blue-green algae, spirulina can be purchased in powdered form and added for its nutrients to smoothies and other foods. A cup of spirulina contains 4.6 grams of arginine, as well as iron, niacin, calcium, and potassium. You’ll probably use spirulina sparingly, but when you do know that it brings you that much more arginine along with its other nutrients.


Another great vegetarian/vegan source of protein and fiber, arginine can be found in lentils up to 1.3 grams per cup, with lysine again to pack a double punch of amino acid intake. Lentils also pair excellently with the meats on this list for the carnivores who are interested—there’s an arginine-rich meal in the making here.

Dairy Products

Dairy products are sources of protein and thus arginine too. Just 4 ounces of cheddar cheese has a small amount of arginine, 0.25 grams, and a cup of milk has 0.2 grams, just a little bit more arginine for your effort. Some good news: if your dairy is coming in the form of ice cream, chocolate syrup has 0.9 grams of arginine per 100 grams, so add a little of it on top, or have some chocolate milk while you’re at it, and know that you’re getting some arginine there too.

Watermelon Seeds

We’ve saved the most curious for last: though most of us spit out or avoid the seeds in our watermelons, they contain over 5 grams of arginine per cup, so feel free to swallow them knowing they’re doing you no harm and also bringing you a little bit good—you can’t lose!

Arginine Foods and You

The value of gaining more arginine from foods is that it’s as natural as the healthy production of arginine within us. Not only is arginine deficiency blessedly low due to its levels in our food, but if you’re gaining a bit more of it through dietary intake, you’re not very likely to get too much of it either. With evidence showing arginine helps blood flow and heart health along with the immune response to cancer, it’s a natural amino acid to value and desire.

However: do remember that if you’re looking for even more arginine in supplement form (as with any sort of dietary supplement), it’s important not to go overboard. Too much of any one vitamin, mineral, or amino acid might have the unwanted effect of overtaxing a specific part of the body. Whether it’s by causing an excessive clean-up in the liver or kidneys, or overwhelming the other chemicals in the body that your chosen one works in concert with, you don’t want to throw yourself off kilter.

Look into well-rounded multivitamins or comprehensive essential amino acid blends that offer a measured balance of your body’s needs. Extremely high levels of arginine are no more desirable than low levels of arginine. Instead, what’s important is to have a healthy arginine ratio in the body that will meet your needs but not overwhelm your system. Eat well, supplement well, and prosper!

Is Quinoa a Complete Protein? It May Just Be the Missing Link in Your Diet!

It can be hard for vegans and vegetarians to find complete proteins that meat and fish eaters source with ease. Enter Quinoa (KEEN-wah), a complete protein that some hail as a supergrain.

Vegetarians, vegans, and even the meatless Monday crowd crave the same quality nutrition that the carnivore next door gets without breaking a sweat. Which leaves many of us wondering, is quinoa a complete protein? While it’s not difficult to get garden-variety nutrients in a plant-based diet, it can be a challenge to source the complete proteins found in animal products. Enter quinoa (KEEN-wah), a complete protein source that some hail as a supergrain.

We need 20 amino acids in different combinations to create the proteins that fuel our cells and power our lives. For instance, your heart is made of 95% amino acids. But our bodies alone can only create 11 of them. The other nine essential amino acids must come from what we eat, and quinoa is one of the plant sources that supplies each of these “building blocks of life.”

Is Quinoa a Complete Protein?

Quinoa is technically not a grain, but a seed. Regardless of classification, it’s enjoyed much like other grain-based foods.

While most whole grains have some amino acids, they tend to lack the amino acid lysine or contain only trace amounts of it and don’t deliver enough protein to sustain our essential amino acid requirements. The amino acid profile of quinoa, however, can be considered complete.

Quinoa offers up a good amount of lysine and the other eight essential amino acids to help support our bodies’ amino acid needs. And research shows that the digestion of quinoa protein is comparable to that of other high-quality protein foods.

Here’s the possible catch: quinoa appears to be a high-quality protein, but that is in terms of quinoa protein isolate, which is actually of low quantity in quinoa seeds. The amino acid profile of quinoa is, for instance, significantly inferior to specially formulated essential amino acid mixtures. So, by all means, add quinoa to your diet to feed your body the essential amino acids it craves, but, if you are concerned that you aren’t meeting your protein needs, then consider supplementing with essential amino acids according to your nutritional needs.

Is quinoa a complete source of protein?

The protein in quinoa far surpasses the protein content of its grainy competitors. Take incomplete proteins such as rice and barley, for example. One cup of quinoa contains 8 grams of protein, while brown rice has only 5 grams, and barley less than that at 3.5 grams.

Is quinoa a complete protein?

On par with rice and couscous, quinoa has a nutty taste with a slight toothsomeness. For a savory approach, some toss in bay leaves, thyme, garlic powder, and other herbs and spices, while the breakfast crowd might like it a bit sweeter, boiling it with milk, stirring in fruits and nuts with a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg. You can add quinoa to soups, salads, and stir-fries, or pop it like popcorn. Here are some recipes to try.

Harvest from an Ancient Table

A seed that comes to us courtesy of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, quinoa means “the mother grain” in its original South American tongue, and dates back thousands of years. It was also called  “The gold of the Incas” because, with a belly full, warriors as old as 50 had the fortitude to scale the Andes, fight amid the harsh terrain, and vanquish their enemies.

Though this superfood remained a secret tucked away in a distant land for millennia, word has gotten around. These days quinoa crops are sprouting up in North America, China, France, and India with production picking up in Africa and the Middle East. There are 1,800 types of quinoa in a rainbow of colors, but only a few made the leap to the U.S. The white variety is milder, while the red and black boast more nutrients. The harvested seeds of Chenopodium quinoa undergo processing to remove natural saponins, a bitter-tasting husk that acts as a natural pesticide to the maturing plant.

A Cornucopia of Nutritional Goodies

Apart from being one of the best sources of protein, quinoa has small amounts of omega-3 essential fatty acids, is non-GMO, and is usually organically grown, which makes it a good find. Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti took a selfie with her pouch of quinoa aboard the International Space Station. She chose this plant protein as one of her “bonus foods,” pairing it with mackerel. Quinoa’s also held in lofty esteem by NASA scientists, who’ve explored growing it in outer space, as it reproduces and stores well, while offering nutritional bang for the buck. Aside from protein, which supports muscle, hair, collagen, enzymes, and antibodies, and fiber that helps our bodies absorb nutrients, quinoa is a strong source of:

  • Manganese (58% of the RDA): A friend to the brain, nerves connective tissue, bones, blood, hormones, and metabolism.
  • Magnesium (30% of the RDA): Gets the biochemical party started and helps with energy production.
  • Phosphorous (28% of the RDA): Teams up with calcium to give strength and structure to bones and teeth.
  • Folate (19% of the RDA): A B vitamin that hooks up with your DNA chain and percolates other genetic material.
  • Copper (18% of the RDA): Links up with iron to help form red blood cells and keep blood vessels, nerves, immune system, and bones ticking like the Swiss.
  • Iron (15% of the RDA): Important for healthy blood and transfer of oxygen from lungs and tissues.
  • Zinc (13% of the RDA): Big on cell division, cell growth, wound healing, and the breakdown of carbohydrates. If you can smell and taste, thank zinc.
  • Vitamins B1, B2, and B6 (more than 10% of the RDA): The Bs power energy level, brain function, and cell metabolism.
  • Potassium (9% of the RDA): Regulates fluid balance, muscle contractions, and nerve signals. A diet rich in potassium may help reduce blood pressure and water retention, and help prevent stroke, osteoporosis, and kidney stones.

Is quinoa a complete source of protein?


Fighting Disease Like an Incan Warrior

There’s a saying: Fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. And while quinoa is mainly known for the ways it supports body function, it’s increasingly becoming appreciated—in the never-say-die spirit of its Incan ancestry—for its warrior-like attributes and health benefits.

Antioxidants? Check!

Quinoa ranks high in antioxidants, which help neutralize free radicals in the body. Free radicals are believed to contribute to aging and certain diseases. A study looked at antioxidant levels in five cereals, three pseudo-cereals, and two legumes, and found quinoa to have the highest antioxidant content of them all. When added to gluten-free goods, quinoa enhanced their polyphenol content, helping to stave off certain cancers, osteoporosis, and other unwanted health effects.

Quinoa May Boost Metabolism

A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition showed that using quinoa instead of typical gluten-free breads and pastas significantly reduced blood sugar, insulin, and triglyceride levels. And research with rats indicated that quinoa in a diet high in fructose almost completely inhibited the negative effects of the fructose.

Good for Low Glycemic Diets

The glycemic index measures how foods raise your blood-sugar levels. Foods that are high on the glycemic index can stimulate hunger and lead to overeating and obesity. Obesity can be a culprit in type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Quinoa has a glycemic index of 53, which is considered low and can be an ally in blood sugar control.

Feel Fuller, Eat Less

Quinoa has been associated with weight loss by boosting metabolism and reducing appetite, possibly because its high-fiber content may increase feelings of fullness, causing one to eat less, though more research is needed to help scientists better understand quinoa’s effects on metabolism.

A Hedge Against Diabetes

Studies of Peruvian grains and legumes found that quinoa, its cousin kañiwa, and other traditional crops from Peru’s Andes have the potential to manage type 2 diabetes and associated hypertension.

Putting the Kibosh on Cholesterol

High in soluble fiber, quinoa can help bring down blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, and increase a sense of fullness, which can, potentially, help with weight loss.

Highly Regarded, but No Halo

Quinoa attributes are undisputed, but even with a glycemic index of 53, it is somewhat high in carbs, and not as well-suited to a low-carb diet.

Another potential hitch is quinoa’s naturally occurring phytic acid, which can make it harder for the body to absorb all of its rich minerals. Soaking and/or sprouting the seed prior to cooking can reduce that effect. Other than that, though, it’s pretty hot stuff. In fact, leaders are looking at mass-produced quinoa as a way to feed the world as the effects of climate change take hold. Given its high level of genetic diversity, quinoa crops are highly resilient to extremes in soil, rainfall, temperature, and altitude, and tolerant to frost, drought, and salinity, according to a 2016 report.

So, if you haven’t already, maybe it’s time to up your protein intake and add some quinoa to the menu.

The High Blood Pressure Heart Disease Connection

Hypertension occurs when blood pressure is consistently too high. What is the high blood pressure heart disease connection? Find out here!

Nicknamed the silent killer due to its hidden symptoms, high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) occurs when blood pressure is consistently too high. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), approximately half of all Americans have high blood pressure, and many are unaware they have it.

With every beat of your heart, blood pumps through arteries, veins, and capillaries. Two forces create the pressure we refer to as blood pressure: systolic pressure as blood travels out into the arteries, and diastolic pressure as the heart rests between heartbeats. You’ve likely seen these two types of pressure measured in a blood pressure reading.

  • The top number is your systolic pressure, and the normal range is less than 120 mm Hg.
  • The bottom number is your diastolic blood pressure, with less than 80 mm Hg being the targeted range.

What is the high blood pressure heart disease connection? High blood pressure makes the heart and blood vessels work harder and less efficiently, damaging the tissues inside the arteries over time. LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) forms plaque along the artery walls and narrows the arteries, raising blood pressure. This can ultimately lead to heart disease and heart attack, among other health problems such as kidney disease, sexual dysfunction, and dementia.

What Causes High Blood Pressure?

There are two types of high blood pressure: primary hypertension, which does not have a discernable cause and tends to develop gradually over many years, and secondary hypertension, which tends to appear suddenly and create higher blood pressure compared to primary hypertension. Various lifestyles, conditions, and medications can lead to secondary hypertension. Let’s take a look at the primary risk factors.

Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

While hypertension symptoms typically remain quiet, if your blood pressure is extremely elevated, you may experience the following side effects:

  • Excruciating headache
  • Lethargy
  • Confusion
  • Vision impairment
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Blood in the urine
  • Pounding in your neck, ears, or chest

High blood pressure is considered a “silent killer”

Does High Blood Pressure Cause Heart Disease?

High blood pressure can damage your body for years without showing symptoms, and if it is left untreated, it can lead to disability or a heart attack. Half of the people with uncontrolled high blood pressure die of cardiovascular disease related to poor blood flow and another third die of stroke.

High blood pressure can damage your arteries and heart in the long run. High blood pressure increases the pressure of blood flowing through your arteries, and uncontrolled high blood pressure can damage your heart in many different ways.

Damaged Arteries

High blood pressure can damage the inner lining of your arteries. The fat that you eat enters your bloodstream and collects in the damaged arteries. With time, artery walls become less elastic, and they limit blood flow throughout your body.


The pressure of blood flowing through a weak artery can form a bulge in the arteries, which is called an aneurysm. Aneurysms are more common in the body’s largest artery (aorta), and they can cause life-threatening internal bleeding.

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease narrows the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle and prevents blood from flowing freely through the arteries. This can lead to chest pain, a heart attack, or irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias).

Enlarged Left Heart

High blood pressure makes your heart work harder to pump blood, causing the thickening of the left ventricle. The ventricle is not able to pump blood to your body anymore, and the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and sudden cardiac death may increase.

Heart Failure and Attack

In the long term, high blood pressure can weaken your heart muscle, and eventually, your heart simply fails and struggles to perform vital tasks. This can lead to a heart attack.

High blood pressure is considered a “silent killer”

How to Treat High Blood Pressure

If you have high blood pressure, a healthy lifestyle can play a key role in treating this condition so you can avoid prescription medications.

Lose Weight

Losing weight is one of the most effective ways to lower blood pressure. Just 10 pounds of weight loss can make a marked difference. Focus on your waistline—carrying too much weight around the middle can increase your risk of high blood pressure.

Eat Healthy

A diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and amino acids is ideal. This eating plan is known as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. Avoid saturated fats and trans fats, and reduce your salt consumption. Even a small reduction in sodium can lower blood pressure by 2 to 8 mm Hg. Reading food labels is an excellent habit. Eat fewer processed foods, and do not add extra salt to your meals—just 1 level teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium. Replace salt with herbs and spices.

Click here for 16 foods that help lower blood pressure!

Exercise Regularly

Regular exercise helps prevent high blood pressure, especially for those with prehypertension (systolic 120-129 mm Hg and diastolic less than 80 mm Hg) who are teetering on full-blown hypertension. Consistent physical activity can significantly lower your blood pressure. It’s as simple as walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming and engaging in a strength training program.

Reduce Alcohol

If you are 65 years old and older, avoid drinking more than one drink a day. If you are younger, drinking more than two drinks a day might have consequences later in life. And indulging in alcohol can raise your blood pressure by several points and stymie the effectiveness of blood pressure medications.

Avoid Smoking

Smoking can affect your body in many different ways, one of which is to raise your blood pressure, and not just when you’re smoking but for several minutes after. Quitting smoking helps your blood pressure return to normal.

Reduce Caffeine

The jury is still out on how significantly caffeine impacts blood pressure levels, but you can test how you react to caffeine to know how it affects your blood pressure. First check your blood pressure to get a base reading. Then, test your blood pressure numbers within 30 minutes of drinking a caffeinated beverage. If your blood pressure increases 5 to 10 mm Hg, you may be sensitive to the effects of caffeine.

Reduce Stress

Chronic stress most assuredly raises high blood pressure. Mindfulness and breathing techniques can help you cope with stress, but introspective work to know your stress triggers is crucial. Practice gratitude and learn to accept the things that you cannot change.

Monitor Your Blood Pressure

Blood pressure monitors are available widely and without a prescription, and they can help you keep your blood pressure in check. Follow the tips mentioned above, and alert your doctor if you experience health complications. If your blood pressure is under control, you might need to visit your doctor only every 6 to 12 months, but if your blood pressure is not controlled, your visits might become more frequent.

Get Support

The support of your family and friends is key to your health. They may notice health-related issues that you do not see, be an advocate for your health and medical treatment, and even jump on board a new exercise program that can help keep your blood pressure readings in the normal range.

How to Treat and Prevent Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a heart disease that afflicts millions of Americans each year and is responsible for close to 16% of all deaths globally. It is important to identify CAD signs and risk factors early to help prevent its deleterious effects.

Coronary artery disease, or coronary heart disease, affects millions of Americans. In fact, it’s the most prevalent type of heart disease and the leading cause of death in the United States. However, while this monstrous health problem is responsible for the deaths of one in four Americans each year, it’s also largely preventable. So read on to discover how you can treat and even prevent coronary artery disease.

What Is Coronary Artery Disease?

Coronary artery disease is the result of plaque buildup (atherosclerosis) in the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. In people with this condition, plaque lines the walls of the coronary arteries until the flow of blood is restricted and the heart doesn’t get enough blood—a condition known as ischemia. This restriction of blood flow to the heart can eventually damage the heart muscle, reducing its ability to pump blood efficiently.

Because coronary artery disease develops over time, symptoms depend on the stage of the condition and may be nonexistent, mild, or severe. In the most extreme cases, plaque buildup can suddenly rupture, forming a blood clot when blood platelets attempt to repair the damage. If the blood flow in the artery becomes completely blocked by this process, a myocardial infarction, or heart attack, occurs.

In most people, symptoms of coronary artery disease don’t appear until later in life. However, children and teenagers may sometimes develop the condition as well.

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a heart disease that afflicts millions of Americans each year and is responsible for close to 16% of all deaths globally. It is important to identify CAD signs and risk factors early to help prevent the deleterious effects of coronary artery disease.

Coronary Artery Disease Risk Factors

Coronary artery disease is associated with a host of risk factors, many of which can be reduced with lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, though, some factors can’t be changed. These include:

  • Sex: According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), men are more likely to develop obstructive coronary artery disease (narrowed arteries due to plaque), and women are more likely to develop nonobstructive coronary artery disease (arteries with plaque that doesn’t obstruct blood flow).
  • Age: In men, the risk of developing coronary artery disease begins to increase after age 45. In women, the risk increases after menopause.
  • Family history: People with a family history of coronary artery disease have a higher chance of developing the condition.
  • Race: Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in most groups, regardless of race. However, for Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and American Indians, heart disease is second only to cancer.

Again, however, the vast majority of coronary artery disease risk factors are within our control. Some of these factors include:

  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Elevated body mass index (BMI)
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic stress
  • Sleep apnea
  • Heavy alcohol use

Coronary Artery Disease Symptoms

As mentioned, the symptoms people experience with coronary artery disease depend on the stage of the disease. Sometimes the first symptoms noted are mild episodes of shortness of breath and chest pain (angina) with activity. But some people may not experience any symptoms until they have an episode of severe chest pain, or even a heart attack. And sometimes coronary artery disease causes no symptoms.

When this happens, it’s known as silent coronary artery disease. Unfortunately, this particular manifestation of coronary artery disease may not be diagnosed until it’s progressed to the point where a person begins to show signs of having a heart attack, heart failure, or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).

Acute signs of coronary artery disease, such as may occur during a heart attack, include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Angina
  • Cold sweats
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Neck pain
  • Nausea
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weakness

Symptoms of chronic coronary artery disease may include:

  • Angina
  • Anxiety
  • Neck pain
  • Fatigue

Diagnosing Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is diagnosed based on personal and family history; risk factors; physical exam; blood tests to measure levels of certain fats, cholesterol, blood sugar, and proteins; and diagnostic procedures. Common tests performed in the diagnosis of coronary artery disease include:

  • Chest x-ray: A chest x-ray may be the first test performed, as it’s able to identify overt abnormalities in the shape and size of the heart, lungs, and blood vessels.
  • Electrocardiogram: An EKG (or ECG) is a painless procedure that’s also the most commonly used test to screen for heart problems. Used to record the electrical activity of the heart, an EKG can detect arrhythmias, current or previous heart attacks, and the likelihood of coronary artery disease.
  • Echocardiogram: This ultrasound procedure, which is also referred to as an echo, may be recommended in the face of abnormal EKG results. The test uses sound waves to detect structural abnormalities in the heart.
  • Stress test: A cardiac stress test uses either exercise or medication (that mimics exercise) to measure the heart’s response to stress. The test can identify abnormalities in blood pressure and heart rate and rhythm as well as symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest pain.
  • Cardiac catheterization: This is an invasive procedure that may be performed if preliminary testing or symptoms lead your physician to suspect you have coronary artery disease. During the procedure, a flexible tube called a catheter is threaded to the heart, where dye is injected and an imaging procedure called a coronary angiography is performed to look for areas of blockage as the dye moves through the heart and its major vessels.

Treating Coronary Artery Disease

Treatment of coronary artery disease depends on several factors, including the severity of the disease, a person’s current health status, and whether they have any complicating health conditions. That being said, treatment may include:

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Medications
  • Procedures

Lifestyle Changes

The same lifestyle changes recommended to prevent coronary artery disease are also used to help treat it. And for many people with only early signs of the condition, lifestyle changes may be all they need. Typical lifestyle changes recommended for the prevention and treatment of coronary artery disease include:

  • Eating a heart healthy diet
  • Quitting smoking
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Managing stress

In fact, controlling the risk factors for coronary artery disease has even been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease by more than 80%.


If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your doctor may also recommend medication to help relieve symptoms, lower cholesterol or blood pressure, or prevent blood clots. Some of these medications include:

  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins)
  • Antiplatelet drugs (aspirin)
  • Beta blockers (metoprolol)
  • Calcium channel blockers (diltiazem)
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (lisinopril)
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) (valsartan)


For people in the more severe stages of coronary artery disease, lifestyle changes and medication may still not be enough. In these cases, surgery will be required. This may take the form of a coronary angioplasty to widen a blocked artery by inflating a tiny balloon or placing a wire mesh tube known as a stent or a coronary artery bypass graft, which involves using healthy arteries from the chest wall or veins from the legs to bypass blocked coronary arteries.

How to Prevent Coronary Artery Disease

By far, the best way to treat coronary artery disease is to prevent it before it starts. And as we’ve just discussed, a few simple lifestyle changes can reduce your risk by more than 80%.

Along with stopping smoking (or avoiding secondhand smoke), losing weight, getting regular exercise, and working on reducing your stress with techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga, there’s no better way to prevent coronary artery disease than eating a heart-healthy diet.

If you’re looking for ways to get the most benefits out of your diet, think about including plenty of:

  • Lean proteins
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Fatty fish
  • Whole grains
  • Olive oil
  • Fruits
  • Beans
  • Nuts

While certain coronary artery disease risk factors—such as family history, age, and sex—can’t be changed, the majority can be decreased, or even eliminated. So speak with your health care provider, find out what your risks are, and make changes as necessary. Your heart will thank you.

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a heart disease that afflicts millions of Americans each year and is responsible for close to 16% of all deaths globally. It is important to identify CAD signs and risk factors early to help prevent the deleterious effects of coronary artery disease.

Stroke Recovery: How to Spot a Stroke and Tips for Treatment and Prevention

A stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is cut off or reduced. Can amino acid supplements help during stroke recovery? The latest research shows promising results regarding the effects of amino acids on patients during exercise and recovery.

Did you know that 10-20% of your body’s blood supply goes to your brain, delivering much-needed oxygen and critical nutrients? When blood flow to the brain is impaired, the brain stops receiving oxygen and nutrients, brain cells start to die, and a stroke is underway. Strokes can occur close to the surface of the brain or deep within the tissues—the damage depends on the area of the brain that is affected, the type of stroke, and the severity.

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, and it is considered a medical emergency. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 800,000 people in the United States each year have a stroke, and strokes kill around 140,000 Americans annually. Let’s gain a better understanding of this ominous cardiovascular event and what to expect on the road to stroke recovery.

Signs of a Stroke

Recognizing the symptoms of a stroke is crucial. Patients who arrive at the emergency room within three hours of manifesting symptoms recover faster than patients whose care was delayed. Use the “FAST” test to determine if you or someone you love is having a stroke.

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. A stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is cut off or reduced. Can amino acid supplements help during stroke recovery? The latest research shows promising results regarding the effects of amino acids on patients during exercise and recovery.

What Causes a Stroke?

The cause determines the type of stroke and the part of the brain affected.

Ischemic Stroke

An ischemic stroke occurs when the blood vessels in the brain close up or become blocked. Up to 90% of all strokes are ischemic. The most common types are:

  • Thrombotic stroke: This type of ischemic stroke happens when a clot forms in a blood vessel due to a build up of plaque that results in reduced blood flow (thrombosis).
  • Embolic stroke: When a clot forms in another part of the body and moves to the brain, blocking an artery (embolism), an embolic stroke can occur.

According to Harvard Medical School, up to one-fifth of all strokes are lacunar. A lacunar stroke is a type of ischemic stroke resulting from a blockage in tiny arteries deep inside the brain. More than 90% of patients who experienced a lacunar stroke recover within the first 90 days after the stroke.

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)

A transient ischemic attack (TIA), also called a mini-stroke, is similar to an ischemic stroke because it is caused by a clot blocking blood flow to part of the nervous system, but there is no permanent brain damage. Symptoms are similar to those of an ischemic stroke (weakness on one side of the body and slurred speech) but they usually last less than 5 minutes. It might be difficult to tell if you are having a stroke or a TIA based on symptoms, so always seek immediate medical attention.

Hemorrhagic Stroke

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel leaks blood into the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes are rarer than ischemic strokes, but they account for between 30% and 60% of all stroke-related deaths. The most common types of hemorrhagic stroke are:

  • Intracerebral hemorrhage: An intracerebral hemorrhage is caused by a blood vessel in the brain leaking into the brain tissue and harming the cells (aneurysm). High blood pressure, vascular malformations, trauma and use of blood-thinning medications are notable risk factors for intracerebral hemorrhage.
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage: When an artery in the brain spills into the region between the skull and the brain, a subarachnoid hemorrhage can occur—a sudden, severe headache usually signals the bleeding. After the hemorrhage, the blood vessels widen and narrow intermittently, causing cell damage.

Stroke Risk Factors

Many factors can increase stroke risk. Lifestyle risk factors include being overweight, physical inactivity, and addiction to alcohol and drugs. Medical risk factors include blood pressure higher than 120/80 millimeters of mercury, smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease, and family history.

Keep in mind that smoke, secondhand smoke, and heavy alcohol consumption raise the risk of stroke. Certain street drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamines, are also risk factors for a TIA or a stroke.

Stroke Prevention

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is one of the best steps you can take to prevent a stroke.

  • Keep tabs on your blood pressure. Monitor your blood pressure and keep it low by exercising regularly, managing stress, and maintaining a healthy weight. If you tend to have high blood pressure, ask your doctor about the best methods for regulation, which may include prescription medications if lifestyle alterations are unable to lower blood pressure to safe levels.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Cut back on saturated fat and trans fats to reduce plaque in your arteries. Be sure to include the recommended five or more daily servings of fruits or vegetables to reduce the risk of stroke.
  • Exercise often. Cardio workouts help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and improve the health of your blood vessels and heart. Exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Take preventive medications as prescribed. In addition to lifestyle changes, you can ask your doctor about preventive medications. Antiplatelet drugs, like aspirin, make blood cells less sticky and less likely to clot. Aggrenox, a combination of low-dose aspirin and the anti-platelet drug dipyridamole, is commonly prescribed to decrease the risk of blood clotting.

Stroke Recovery

For a full recovery and to accelerate recovery time, follow these tips:

  • Therapy: Physical therapists and psychologists can help reverse the physical and mental effects of a stroke and prevent depression. Occupational therapy and speech therapy can help you regain cognitive abilities and improve your speech following a stroke. Follow the instructions of your health care team and be patient with your rehabilitation program as you rebuild strength and improve coordination.
  • Gait rehabilitation: To regain gait and mobility, physical and occupational therapists recommend a stroke recovery program that incorporates strength training, treadmill training, and functional electrical stimulation to help reprogram your muscles. About 65-85% of stroke sufferers will be able to walk independently within 6 months after a stroke.
  • Eye exercises: About 25% of all stroke survivors experience issues with vision, and eye exercises can help. Standard letter search or word search puzzles can be easily incorporated into your daily life.
  • Support: Having a support network is crucial throughout the recovery process. Your family members and loved ones can help you heal the emotional distress left by the stroke, but you can also look for local support groups through the American Heart Association.
  • SleepAfter a stroke, it might be difficult to fall asleep, and small strategies can help. Sleep in a cool room, turn off technology at least 30 minutes before going to bed and practice meditation to release stress.
  • Blood sugar levels: Reduce consumption of foods that can raise blood sugar levels. Cut refined sugars, grains, and alcohol from your diet—eat high-fiber foods that help keep blood sugar levels within the normal range.
  • Yoga and meditation: Studies show that yoga improves physical, mental, and emotional health after a stroke—GABA, the neurotransmitter that regulates anxiety, is released in the brain during yoga. Studies have also found that meditation can reduce pain, improve sleep quality, help mental performance, boost productivity, and increase happiness.
  • Vitamin D: Low serum levels of vitamin D are associated with post-stroke depression. Taking supplements of high-quality vitamin D can help improve neurologic and cognitive function. Eat foods that contain high levels of vitamin D such as sardines and salmon and, if possible, get at least 20 minutes each day of sun.

Amino Acids for Stroke Recovery

Can amino acid supplements help during stroke rehabilitation? The latest research shows promising results regarding the effects of amino acids on stroke patients during exercise and recovery.

One study showed that 30 days of oral supplementation with an optimally formulated mixture of amino acids alongside conventional therapy improved exercise capacity in 95 elderly people with chronic heart failure. The patients were randomly assigned to 4 grams of amino acids taken twice daily or a placebo. Results showed that exercise capacity in the amino acid group improved compared to the placebo group—oral amino acid supplementation, in conjunction with pharmacologic therapy, enhanced circulatory function, muscle oxygen consumption, and aerobic production of energy.

Another study examined amino acid and protein metabolism during exercise and recovery and found that amino acids restore glycogen, a substance deposited in bodily tissues as a store of carbohydrates, which are used as fuel during exercise.

Taking a balanced amino acid supplement can also stimulate muscle protein synthesis. During recovery patients often stay in bed, and go through periods of physical inactivity. Studies show that essential amino acids reduce the loss of muscle protein mass and physical strength.

For more information on stroke risks, causes, and prevention, as well as resources for coping with life after a stroke, visit the National Stroke Association/American Stroke Association website.

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. A stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is cut off or reduced. Can amino acid supplements help during stroke recovery? The latest research shows promising results regarding the effects of amino acids on patients during exercise and recovery.

Heart Disease Tests That Can Stop a Heart Attack Before It Happens

There are specific tests to get if think you might be at risk of developing heart disease, and if you have a history of heart disease in your family. These heart disease tests can stop a heart attack before it happens if you follow the doctor’s instructions after the exam.

The American Heart Association recommends beginning heart disease prevention at an early age, as evaluating risk factors early and taking steps to reduce them can lead to a greater chance of living a long and healthy life. In addition, while heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women, men not only have a greater risk of heart attack but also have heart attacks earlier in life. So now that we have your attention, let’s discuss what heart disease is, what its risks and symptoms are, and some common heart disease tests used to diagnose the condition.

What Is Heart Disease?

The term “heart disease” is actually an umbrella term that’s used to describe a range of conditions that affect the heart. These include:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Carotid artery disease
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Cardiomegaly

Risks of Heart Disease

While certain risk factors for heart disease can’t be changed—including age, sex, and family history—most can be modified or even prevented. These include:

Smoking Atrial fibrillation
High cholesterol Obesity
Poor diet Diabetes
High blood pressure Stress
Lack of physical activity Heavy drinking

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 47% of Americans have at least one of the three main risk factors for heart disease:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking

And according to the American Heart Association, at least 68% of people aged 65 or older with diabetes die of some form of heart disease.

Symptoms of Heart Disease

The type of heart disease you have will determine the type of symptoms you experience. Some of these conditions and their associated symptoms include:

  • Arrhythmias: Encompassing conditions such as atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter, arrhythmias may present with syncope (fainting), lightheadedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, or tachycardia or bradycardia (fast or slow heartbeat).
  • Atherosclerotic disease: Diseases of the vessels may present with chest pain or pressure; shortness of breath; pain in the neck, upper abdomen, or back; or pain or numbness in the extremities.
  • Heart defects: Structural abnormalities of the heart may present with cyanosis (bluish skin) or leg or abdominal swelling.
  • Cardiomyopathy: Diseases of the heart muscle may present with shortness of breath, lower extremity swelling, fatigue, arrhythmia, dizziness, or syncope.
  • Valvular heart disease: Diseases of the heart valves may present with shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, syncope, arrhythmia, or lower extremity swelling.

If you have any of these symptoms, especially chest pain, shortness of breath, or syncope, seek medical assistance immediately. Your health care provider will need to speak with you about your symptoms and personal and family medical history and perform a physical exam.

There are specific tests that you should get if think you might be at risk of developing heart disease, and if you have a history of heart disease in your family. These heart disease tests can stop a heart attack before it happens if you follow the doctor’s instructions after the exam.

Based on your symptoms and findings, your health care provider may also choose to perform a series of both noninvasive and invasive tests to further determine what type of heart disease you have.

Noninvasive (and Minimally Invasive) Heart Disease Tests

Depending on the severity of your condition, noninvasive tests will generally be performed first. This may begin with a chest x-ray to identify any overt abnormalities in the shape or size of your heart, lungs, or blood vessels and then progress to other, more specific tests based on the results of the x-ray images.

Some of the more common noninvasive tests health care providers use to assess symptoms and determine the type of heart disease present are:

  • Electrocardiogram
  • Echocardiogram
  • Cardiac stress test
  • Computed tomography
  • Magnetic resonance imaging


An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is the most commonly used test to screen for heart problems. This test uses small electrodes attached to the chest (and sometimes the extremities) to measure the electrical activity of the heart. While an EKG is a painless procedure that takes only a few minutes to perform, its results can quickly show irregularities in heart rate and rhythm and indicate whether a heart attack has taken place in the past or is currently in progress.

An abnormal EKG may indicate that further testing or treatment is warranted. For example, Holter monitoring, a test involving a portable device worn (usually) for 24 to 48 hours as well as a continuous EKG may be recommended to investigate irregularities in heartbeat. And if your EKG results show evidence of a current heart attack, emergency cardiac intervention may be recommended.


Just as the EKG is the heart test most likely to be performed first, an echocardiogram, or echo, is a complementary test that’s likely to be one of the first tests recommended in the face of abnormal EKG results. But unlike the EKG, an echo is an ultrasound and uses sound waves to image the heart.

If an EKG detects an abnormal rhythm, an echo can be used to evaluate for underlying structural abnormalities. And if an EKG detects a possible heart attack, an echo can help identify the extent of the damage.

Cardiac Stress Test

There are actually several kinds of cardiac stress tests that can be classified as either noninvasive or minimally invasive. However, all stress tests are designed to measure how your heart responds to stress, and each falls into one of two broad categories:

  • Exercise stress test
  • Pharmacologic stress test

During an exercise stress test, you’re asked to exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike while your heart rhythm and rate are monitored. A basic exercise stress test measures your heart’s response to physical exertion using an EKG, while an exercise nuclear test uses an injection of a radioactive substance to enable imaging of your heart. And yet another version of the exercise stress test, known as the stress echo, uses an echocardiogram to image your heart.

Similar to exercise stress tests, pharmacologic stress tests monitor your heart’s response to stress, but instead of using exercise, these types of stress tests use injections of medication that mimic the effects of exercise on the heart. These tests also use either nuclear or echocardiographic imaging.

Computed Tomography

Cardiac computed tomography is a noninvasive test that uses a CT scan to image the arteries of the heart to determine if they’re blocked or narrowed by a buildup of plaque. This test is also sometimes referred to as a coronary calcium scan, as the CT uses the presence of calcium deposits in plaque to determine the level of blockage. The amount of calcium detected is then converted to a calcium score, which corresponds to the severity of coronary artery disease found.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging, or cardiac MRI, is a noninvasive test that uses magnets and radio waves to generate detailed images of the structures in and around the heart. Cardiac MRI can be used to evaluate blood flow through the heart to determine whether any arteries are blocked or whether portions of the heart have been damaged by a heart attack.

There are specific tests that you should get if think you might be at risk of developing heart disease, and if you have a history of heart disease in your family. These heart disease tests can stop a heart attack before it happens if you follow the doctor’s instructions after the exam.

Invasive Heart Disease Tests

Some heart disease tests are more invasive than others. Two of the more common types of tests that fall into this category are:

  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Electrophysiology study

Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is an imaging procedure that is performed under sedation. It can be used by your health care provider to confirm the presence of heart disease and ascertain the need for further intervention. Because of the small risk of complications, your health care provider will usually perform noninvasive tests such as an EKG or stress test before moving on to this invasive procedure.

To perform a cardiac catheterization, a flexible tube called a catheter is inserted into a blood vessel in the wrist or groin via a plastic introducer sheath. The catheter is then threaded through the vessel until it reaches the heart.

Once the tip of the catheter reaches the heart, a coronary angiography is then performed. To conduct this test, radioactive dye is injected into the catheter, and x-ray images are taken as the contrast material moves through the heart and its major vessels.

If any blockages are detected, percutaneous coronary intervention, or coronary angioplasty, may then be performed. During this procedure, a tiny balloon is inserted and inflated at the site of the blockage to help widen the artery. Afterward, a wire mesh tube known as a stent is often placed in the artery to help keep it from narrowing again.

However, angioplasty and stent placement are not always successful, and when this occurs, coronary bypass may be recommended.

Electrophysiology Study

If you have a history of syncope, have been noted to have an arrhythmia or risk of sudden cardiac death, or are simply in need of certain cardiac procedures, your health care provider may choose to perform an electrophysiology (EP) study.

Like a cardiac catheterization, an EP study also makes use of a catheter placed inside the heart. However, the catheter used in an EP study employs a specialized electrode to measure the electrical activity within the heart and determine the site of the abnormality.

With potential complications such as heart failure, stroke, and heart attack, it’s important to take heart health seriously.

To reduce your risk of heart disease, making a commitment to healthy lifestyle choices and managing current medical conditions are great starts. And if you have questions about next steps or symptoms you’d like to discuss, your health care provider can help guide you to the right treatment plan for you.

6 Tips for Preventing Heart Disease

You do not have the power to change your family history and genetics, but you can take steps to reduce the risk of heart disease by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Anyone at any age can follow these simple tips for preventing heart disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). How to prevent heart disease? Some risk factors are connected to family history and genetics, but others depend on your conscious choices and lifestyle. You do not have the power to change your family history and genetics, but you can take steps to reduce the risk of heart disease by adopting a healthy lifestyle. Anyone at any age can follow these simple tips for preventing heart disease.

1. Do Not Smoke (or Quit)

Smoke is one of the leading causes of heart disease. It creates a buildup of plaque, which eventually blocks the arteries. Smoke reduces the amount of good cholesterol (HDL) in your blood and raises blood pressure—the carbon monoxide in smoke displaces some of the oxygen in your blood, which dangerously elevates blood pressure and heart rate because your heart has to work doubly hard to supply enough oxygen. High blood pressure greatly increases your risk for heart failure and kidney disease due to the burden it places on the heart and kidneys. And the chemicals in nicotine and tobacco can damage your blood vessels.

If you are not a smoker, you should avoid getting close to people when they smoke because secondhand smoke can affect your health. If you’re a women who smokes and takes birth control pills you are at an even higher risk of having a heart attack due to blood clots.

It is not easy to quit smoking, but the gains are swift. Your risk of coronary heart disease goes down dramatically in as little as a year after quitting, and it drops almost to that of a nonsmoker in about 15 years.

2. Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet

Nutrition and diet play key roles in preventing heart disease. A diet high in raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids is ideal. High in heart-healthy olive oil, the Mediterranean diet is an excellent option to reduce the risk of heart disease.

The nutrients contained in fruits and vegetables help prevent cardiovascular disease. Vegetables and fruits are rich in vitamins and minerals, and low in calories and high in dietary fiber.

Whole grains are healthier than refined grain products because they contain fiber and other nutrients that regulate blood pressure and heart health.

When it comes to healthy eating, lean meat, poultry, fish, low-fat dairy products, and eggs are the best sources of protein because they contain all the essential amino acids that your body needs to perform most biological processes. Salmon, mackerel, and herring are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to lower blood fats called triglycerides, high levels of which can increase your risk of heart disease. Other great sources of omega-3s include flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans.

Legumes, beans, peas and lentils also contain protein, but they do not have all the essential amino acids. If you are vegetarian or vegan, or you need to lower your meat consumption, particularly red meat, due to heart-health risks, we recommend that you take a supplement to make sure you get all the amino acids that your body needs to thrive.

Read the labels when you go grocery shopping and choose products that are low in saturated fat, trans fats, and sodium. Saturated and trans fats raise the level of blood cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease—and sodium can contribute to high blood pressure. Finally, keep an eye on how much alcohol you drink, and consume in moderation.

3. Exercise Regularly

Exercising regularly can reduce your cardiovascular risk. Physical activity is essential to help you control your body weight and reduce the risk of developing chronic issues that may affect your heart, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Paying attention to weight gain and measuring your body mass index (BMI) is a good way to make sure your health parameters, such as cholesterol and blood sugar levels are on track. BMIs over 25 are typically associated with a higher risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

For both weight loss and weight maintenance, walking at a brisk pace, for about 30 minutes on most days of the week, is an excellent habit to cultivate. The CDC recommends 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week and full-body strength/resistance training on two or more days a week.

If you’re just too busy to dedicate a chunk of your day to exercise, then three 10-minute sessions on most days of the week can make a difference. Activities such as gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs, and walking the dog count as movement and can help you achieve or keep a healthy weight. Try to increase the intensity, duration, and frequency of your workouts to achieve more benefits.

4. Manage Stress

There is a link between stress and heart disease. Stress can trigger the release of the hormone cortisol, which can weaken the cardiovascular and immune systems. If stress becomes chronic, the heart may have to work harder to pump the blood and heart disease may occur.

We all experience stress at different levels and at different times in our lives, and it is essential to know how to manage it. Some people tend to overeat, drink, or smoke to cope with stress, but these habits are detrimental in the long run.

Physical activity and exercise can reduce stress, as can meditation and other breathing techniques. Life gets busy, but family and friends can help you maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Spend quality time with them as often as you can.

Sleep plays a key role in stress management. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it by going to bed and waking up at the same times each day. Experts recommend sleeping at least 7 to 8 hours a night.

5. Control Blood Pressure

High blood pressure can cause stress to the cardiovascular system and lead to heart disease. Because high blood pressure can trigger heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends that you get a blood pressure test at least once every 2 years starting at age 18. If you are age 40 or older, or you are between the ages of 18 and 39 with a risk of hypertension, an annual high blood pressure test is the best way to keep things in check.

You can lower your blood pressure through diet and amino acid therapy, exercise, weight management, stress management, avoiding smoke, and limiting salt intake and alcohol consumption. If you have high blood pressure, work closely with your doctor, monitor your blood pressure on a regular basis, follow the directions on any medications you are prescribed, and make appropriate lifestyle changes.

6. Check Cholesterol Levels

Once every 5 years add a cholesterol level test to the list of your check-ups, starting at age 18. If you have other risk factors, such as family history or genetics, your cholesterol level might already be high at a young age—a cholesterol test early in life can help you become a healthier adult. When cholesterol builds up in your arteries it greatly increases your risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack.

Since cholesterol is connected to diabetes, and diabetes can cause heart disease, a test for diabetes can help in heart disease prevention. Per American Diabetes Association guidelines, if your weight is normal and you aren’t at an increased risk for heart disease, start screening at age 45. Your doctor may suggest a screening early in life if you have other heart disease risk factors such as being overweight or having a family history.

Type 2 diabetes may have dangerous consequences on multiple organs in the body when it is left untreated, and it can lead to a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack. If you have diabetes, get regular checkups, eat a healthy diet, and exercise.

In addition to these healthy living tips for preventing heart disease, it’s important to visit your health care provider for regular checkups. How often you go depends on your heart disease risk factor. The American Heart Association recommends getting a heart checkup once every 2 years if your blood pressure is in the ideal range, below 120/80 mm Hg. If you are not at risk of heart disease, cholesterol levels can be checked every 4–6 years and blood sugar levels at least every 3 years. CRP screening is advised for patients with a 10–20% chance of a heart attack.

Some risk factors for heart disease are connected to family history and genetics, but others depend on your conscious choices and lifestyle. You can take steps to reduce your risk by following these simple tips for preventing heart disease.

Heart Attack Triggers: Know What to Watch For

Heart attack triggers are more controllable risk factors that cause heart malfunction. Understanding the impact these insidious triggers have on your heart is key to prevention and management of heart-related illness.

One million heart attacks, or myocardial infarctions (MI), occur each year in the United States. Fifteen percent of these heart attacks result in death.

People suffer heart attacks when the heart’s muscle tissue is damaged permanently due to lack of oxygen. High cholesterol leads to a buildup of plaque along arterial walls, hindering essential oxygen-laden blood from reaching your heart. A rupture of the buildup stimulates blood-clotting in the already blood-starved region, causing further blood restriction. Coronary spasms are not usual, but they also restrict the flow of blood to heart tissue cells. When oxygen-starved heart muscle tissue dies, heart malfunction manifests as a heart attack. Chest pains, nausea, sweating, fatigue, and irregular heartbeats are common heart attack symptoms.

Family history, gender, and age are uncontrollable risk factors for developing the heart disease conditions that precipitate a heart attack. Yet there are many heart attack risk factors you can control, including diet, stress level, and the consumption of drugs or alcohol.

Surprising Heart Attack Triggers

Heart attack triggers are more controllable risk factors that cause heart malfunction. Either they set off acute arterial spasms that restrict blood flow to the heart, or they disrupt electrical impulses of the heart to manifest cardiac arrest. Understanding the impact these insidious triggers have on your heart is key to prevention and management of heart-related illness.

Extreme Emotions

Feelings of sudden happiness from a surprise birthday party can trigger heart attacks just as much as the immediate anger you might feel when someone cuts you off on the road, or the precipitous flight response you may experience if you are in the midst of instant danger. The heart-damaging effects of sharp emotions can last for many hours after the trigger occurs.

Acute grief or anxiousness have similar effects on your body. How you deal with stressful life situations determines the extent to which you are predisposed to damaging heart muscle tissue. Repeatedly adhering to a deleterious means of addressing anger or stress can be fatal. Preventing unhealthy emotional patterns may be as simple as disassociating with toxic people or choosing public transportation over facing stressful daily commutes to work. Traumatic or exhilarating events can also spark intense emotions, so remain cognizant of your heart health when these occur.

Food in Excess

Many people bolt for the fast food pick-up window or buffet table in search of culinary comforts when stressed. But consuming too many fatty foods and heavy meals in one sitting can damage blood vessels. Moreover, overeating, in general, is especially taxing on the body and can have the opposite effect of alleviating your stress level. That is because the excess food in the body triggers the increase of the stress hormone norepinephrine in the blood, which may increase your heart rate and blood pressure and lead to a heart attack. You can be susceptible to heart trouble anywhere from 2 to 26 hours after consuming an exceptionally large meal. Heart disease sufferers experience high blood pressure when they nibble too close to bedtime (within two hours or less), which increases the risk of a heart attack.

Pre-Existing Illness

Illnesses that trigger inflammation in your body can put you at higher risk for a heart attack. Bacterial infections that cause the common cold, the flu, or even gum disease can damage blood vessels, compromising proper heart and circulatory function. Those who suffer migraines caused by unusual sensorial episodes—peculiar sounds, flashes of light, bizarre sensations—are more likely to experience heart attacks than those who do not react with these types of headaches. Persistent asthma sufferers endure chronic inflammation, which greatly increases their risk of heart problems and heart attacks. Ask your doctor about cardiovascular disease risks linked to certain antibiotics, painkillers, vaccines, and acid indigestion medications. Some of these medications come with serious heart-ailing side effects.

Physical Exertion

The American Heart Association recommends physical activity to combat the long-term effects of heart disease. But sudden and intense physical exertion can have the opposite effect, especially if your body is not conditioned for such fierce endeavors. Sexual activity, especially for at-risk cardiac sufferers, can be just as taxing on the heart as an abrupt sprint up a steep hill. Jolting someone from deep sleep or reacting to a blaring alarm clock during rest can also manifest an erratic heart rate that can trigger a heart attack.

Severe Climates

Exposure to cold weather and cold temperatures constricts blood vessels and can hinder blood flow to the heart, which puts a strain on your heart. To compensate for lower body temperature, the already-strained heart must work harder to increase body temperature. Coupling these debilitating conditions with sudden strenuous activity, such as shoveling snow, may be a heart disaster waiting to happen. Abrupt changes in climate—from extreme heat to extreme cold, for example—can trigger irregular heartbeats as your heart attempts to adjust body temperatures accordingly.

Air pollution can also affect the health of the heart. We breathe in tiny air pollutants that seep into our blood and form the arterial plaque that restricts oxygen-rich blood from reaching the heart.

Drug and Alcohol Use

Within hours of binge drinking alcohol, you can become more susceptible to suffering a heart attack. This indulgence can lead to high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, and a faster heart rate. Additionally, a high alcohol content in the blood can increase your risk of blood clotting. Illegal drug use can bring about similar heart conditions. Taking drugs intravenously can increase the risk of contracting bacterial infections that damage heart tissue.

Avoid Heart Attack Triggers

The best way to avoid heart attack triggers is to educate yourself about what they are and their probable effects and to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol low with a heart-healthy diet. Before taking on anything new, do your research so that you can control what you intake or expose your body to.

If you have a history of heart disease or heart failure, be mindful that your condition comes with increased risk of heart attacks when engaging in seemingly innocuous endeavors, so never take your lack of information about potential triggers for granted.

Knowledge is power, and it could save your life.

Loss of Muscle Mass and Function in Heart Failure: Can Amino Acids Help?

Heart failure develops when cardiac muscle becomes weakened. Loss of muscle mass and function is prominent in heart failure. In heart failure patients, conventional dietary intake has little or no beneficial effect on muscle protein. This is called anabolic resistance. A balanced mixture of essential amino acids (EAAs) can help overcome anabolic resistance.

Heart failure develops when the cardiac muscle becomes weakened. However, the term heart failure itself covers a broad array of conditions, though they all result when your heart no longer pumps blood as well as it should.

Heart failure is also often referred to as congestive heart failure. However, congestive heart failure refers specifically to a type of heart failure in which the heart’s pumping action becomes so compromised that it can no longer coordinate blood flow out of the heart with blood returning through the veins. This congestive heart failure results in fluid backing up and accumulating in the lungs and body tissues.

Heart failure reduces exercise capacity, which in turn leads to progressive muscle weakness and negative lifestyle changes, including a vicious cycle of sedentary behavior and weight gain, with subsequent development of metabolic abnormalities such as diabetes. Loss of muscle mass and function is also prominently seen in heart failure patients.

Most individuals over the age of 65 have some degree of heart failure, or stage 1 heart failure, which is characterized by shortness of breath during recreational exercise activities. Stage 1 heart disease is not usually diagnosed as a significant clinical problem. Stages 2, 3, and 4, however, are much more serious and may significantly impair the ability to perform activities of daily living and ultimately cause death.

But these stages don’t develop overnight. Let’s take a look at how the heart is supposed to function and what leads to the condition known as heart failure.

Normal Heart Function

The heart works by circulating blood through its four chambers: two atria and two ventricles. The right atrium takes in oxygen-poor blood from the body and pumps it to the right ventricle, which in turn sends blood to the lungs. By contrast, the left atrium receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and pumps it to the left ventricle, which then sends blood out to the entire body.

When this process is disrupted, signs of heart failure start to become noticeable. In addition, changes can be seen on one side of the heart or the other—or even both.

Causes of Heart Failure

When the heart muscle itself becomes too weak or stiff to pump blood effectively, heart failure results. This can be caused by a variety of disorders, from congenital heart defects to disease. However, many of the conditions that can lead to heart failure lie within our ability to control—or at least mitigate.

By far, the most common cause of heart failure is coronary artery disease, a condition that results in hardening and narrowing of the arteries due to the buildup of cholesterol and plaque on the arterial walls.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 370,000 people in the United States die of coronary artery disease each year. That’s an average of one in seven deaths that can be attributed to this disease.

However, there are also many other conditions that have been implicated in the development of heart failure. These include:

Types of Heart Failure and Associated Symptoms

The main pumping chambers of the heart are the ventricles (left and right). When these become stiff or are stretched (dilated) to the point where they’re weakened and can no longer pump blood efficiently, you’ve entered the realm of heart failure.

Heart failure itself can be classified into two major categories: left-sided and right-sided.

Left-Sided Heart Failure

The left ventricle supplies most of the heart’s pumping action, and it’s consequently the largest and most muscular of the heart’s four chambers. Not surprisingly, heart failure most commonly affects the ventricle on the left side.

As alluded to earlier, the left ventricle can become so damaged that it can no longer pump oxygen-rich blood out to the body fast enough to keep up with the oxygen-poor blood returning to the heart through the veins. When this occurs, blood begins to back up in the lungs. This accumulation of fluid may result in several symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Foot and ankle swelling

Left-sided heart failure can also be further divided into two subtypes: systolic and diastolic.

Systolic Heart Failure

In systolic heart failure, or heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF), the left ventricle becomes enlarged and too weak to contract normally, which reduces its ability to pump the blood effectively.

Diastolic Heart Failure

In diastolic heart failure, or heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF), the left ventricle loses its ability to relax properly after a contraction and can therefore no longer fill up with enough blood during the period of rest between beats.

Right-Sided Heart Failure

Right-sided heart failure usually occurs as a result of left-sided failure, as the backup of blood in the lungs causes the ventricle on the right side to have to work harder, which can result in its weakening over time.

Right-sided failure can also be a secondary effect of lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pulmonary hypertension, or occur as a result of right ventricular damage from a heart attack.

While the symptoms of left- and right-sided heart failure are similar, the severity of symptoms seen with right-sided failure can be much greater.

For example, the fluid retention seen with right-sided heart failure may spread from the feet and ankles to the abdomen, or even the chest. The buildup of fluid in the abdomen may even be severe enough to result in tenderness and enlargement of the liver. In fact, 90% of patients with ischemic hepatitis (shock liver) have at least some right-sided heart failure.

People with right-sided heart failure may also experience loss of appetite (anorexia) and loss of consciousness (syncope) with exercise due to the heart’s inability to keep up with the demands of vigorous activity.

Pharmaceuticals for Heart Failure Treatment

Of course, optimal treatment of heart failure involves addressing the underlying cause. Pharmacologic treatment options predominantly target the heart’s ability to contract. A variety of drugs may be used for this purpose, with varying degrees of success. However, treating heart failure pharmacologically may be quite complex, particularly in the elderly, who are the most common sufferers of this disease.

More than 50% of individuals over the age of 65 with heart failure have at least four other significant health problems that may also require pharmacologic therapy. These additional conditions and therapies may complicate heart failure therapy.

Adverse responses to pharmacologic heart failure therapy are also not uncommon. In fact, the most common drugs for heart failure treatment, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and beta blockers, can adversely affect muscle function.

Heart Failure Fact: Despite the expenditure of millions of dollars and years of time and effort, no large-scale clinical study of a single drug therapy has demonstrated a substantial beneficial outcome for the most common form of heart failure, in which the principal problem is the failure of the heart to relax after a contraction.

This disappointing reality may reflect the difficulty of treating a syndrome with diverse causes, pathologic responses, and multiple associated chronic diseases using an entirely drug-oriented approach.

Skeletal Muscle Function and Heart Failure

There are multiple reasons for impaired physical functional capacity in heart failure. But most attention has focused on the inability of the heart to pump an adequate amount of blood, which consequently results in less oxygen and nutrients being delivered to the skeletal muscles.

Most heart failure treatments are aimed at improving cardiac function. Unfortunately, drugs that target cardiovascular function have often failed to influence exercise capacity.

However, science has shown that physical training in individuals with heart failure can improve exercise tolerance by improving skeletal muscle function even if heart function is not improved.

Likewise, testosterone treatment, which enhances skeletal muscle function but does not affect heart function, has also been shown to improve exercise capacity in heart failure patients.

Deficiencies in skeletal muscle function are common to all forms of heart failure, and it’s becoming clear that these deficiencies play an important role in pathophysiologic responses.

To further elucidate this, let’s discuss three aspects of skeletal muscle function that are altered in heart failure.

1. Muscle Mass and Strength

Heart failure induces a loss of muscle mass and strength by accelerating muscle protein breakdown. However, the loss of muscle mass is often not initially evident since many heart failure patients are overweight or obese, although in end-stage heart failure, the loss of muscle becomes painfully obvious.

This loss of muscle mass and strength in heart failure occurs in large part because the body’s normal response to dietary protein is altered.

In healthy individuals, dietary protein stimulates the production of new muscle protein. By contrast, in heart failure patients, conventional dietary intake has little or no beneficial effect on muscle protein. This is called anabolic resistance.

2. Energy Production

In people with heart failure, the organelles in muscle where energy is produced (mitochondria) don’t function normally. This is because the capacity of skeletal muscle mitochondria to produce the energy needed to perform physical activity—specifically, the ability to oxidize (combine chemically with oxygen) fatty acids for energy—is impaired in heart failure.

This is in large part due to a deficiency in the ability of fatty acids to enter the mitochondria. Incomplete oxidation of fatty acids leads to the accumulation of muscle products that impair normal metabolic function.

3. Blood Flow

Heart failure also leads to a disruption in the normal regulation of blood flow to the muscles. The amount of blood supplied to muscle tissue is normally tightly tied to the muscle’s metabolic demand. When the demand for oxygen and energy substrates (molecules acted on by an enzyme) increases with exercise, muscle blood flow increases proportionately.

However, the normal increase in muscle blood flow that occurs during exercise is reduced in heart failure patients. This diminished ability to appropriately regulate muscle blood flow is caused by the decreased production of nitric oxide (NO)—the principal vasodilator in skeletal muscle that helps widen blood vessels and increase blood flow.

Thus, whereas the decreased capacity of the heart to deliver adequate blood to peripheral tissues clinically defines heart failure, diminished skeletal muscle mass, strength, and oxidative capacity play important roles in the impairment in physical function.

Amino Acids and Heart Failure

We’ve seen how heart failure can send patients into an anabolic resistant state. Now we’re going to discuss how a balanced mixture of essential amino acids (EAAs) can help overcome anabolic resistance in heart failure.

Many studies have led to this discovery. Let’s highlight the key findings.

First, it’s been shown that only EAAs are necessary to promote muscle protein synthesis, or the building of muscle protein. (For example, check out this study my colleagues and I published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.)

In addition, in a study my colleagues and I published in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, it was shown that a formulation of concentrated EAAs was able to overcome anabolic resistance and stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

It’s also been shown that the action of any one EAA or subgroup of EAAs is not effective in stimulating muscle protein synthesis. For example, neither the three branched-chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) nor leucine alone is effective in this regard, as evidenced by a 2017 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

Finally, a balanced mixture of EAAs has been shown to effectively stimulate muscle protein synthesis in heart failure patients who have received no benefit from a popular meal replacement beverage designed and marketed specifically for support of patients with this condition.

Specific Amino Acids for Heart Failure

Four amino acids have shown particular benefit when included as part of a balanced formulation of EAAs. These are:

  • Citrulline
  • Arginine
  • Leucine
  • Carnitine

Although not an essential amino acid, citrulline is an amino acid that, when added to a mixture of EAAs, targets the impaired regulation of muscle blood flow that occurs in heart failure. In fact, consumption of this amino acid is the most effective way to promote NO production—the key to increasing blood flow to muscles during activity.

Dietary supplementation with arginine can also be an effective approach for increasing NO production. However, there are limitations in the use of supplemental arginine. Because of rapid uptake and the metabolism of this amino acid by the liver, a large dose is necessary to significantly increase NO production, and this can cause significant gastric distress.

In contrast to arginine, citrulline is well tolerated and has, again, been shown to stimulate NO production effectively in individuals with heart failure.

We’ve already discussed how heart failure results in a limited capacity of skeletal muscle mitochondria to produce energy via fatty acid oxidation and how this directly impacts the ability to perform physical activity.

This impairment is particularly problematic for individuals with heart failure, as it is this process that provides the energy necessary to perform the low-intensity exercise involved in activities of daily living.

However, amino acids can address several aspects of mitochondrial function. For instance, EAAs stimulate the production of enzymes in mitochondria that are involved in the metabolic reactions that produce energy.

In addition, the amino acid leucine stimulates the production of new mitochondria, and the amino acid carnitine can improve the transport of fatty acids into the mitochondria.

As we have seen, amino acids have the ability to address the three major ways heart failure impairs muscle function. Again, these three ways are:

  • Accelerated breakdown of muscle protein
  • Poor regulation of muscle blood flow
  • Impaired production of energy

In light of this ability, not only do EAAs show great promise for enhancing heart health, but they can also be effective in mitigating the causes of and risk factors for heart failure.

And when combined with a healthy lifestyle, these aptly named building blocks of life may even result in improvement in both the symptoms of heart failure and, most importantly, quality of life.