Can Your Heart Save Your Mind?

April 27, 2009



Heart disease may be the number one cause of death in the United States, but before taking away a person's life, it may take their senses. A new study out earlier last month linked poor cardiovascular health to an increased likelihood of dementia. A healthy heart, it turns out, also keeps a healthy mind, the study says. This finding provides manufacturers another opportunity to inform consumers about the benefits of heart- healthy ingredients.

The Cardiovascular Health Study, led by Alka M. Kanaya, PhD, and her colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, linked healthy cardiovascular health to a higher level of cognitive function. By contrast, high fat levels result in poor cardiovascular health, researchers say, leading to high blood pressure and increased blood glucose levels. In turn, poor cardiovascular health led to an increased chance of developing dementia.

Kanaya's team followed approximately 2800 elderly adults (average age 74.7) with normal cognitive function for a mean of 5.4 years. Participants were also asked to report their weight at age 50, allowing the researchers to confirm the relationship between mid-life obesity and subsequent development of dementia. Over the study's duration, 245 participants developed Alzheimer's disease without evidence of vascular dementia, 62 were diagnosed with vascular dementia without Alzheimer's disease, and 151 developed signs of both conditions. Another 22 participants developed dementia that appeared to relate neither to vascular dementia nor Alzheimer's disease.

The study found that obesity at age 65-defined as body mass index (BMI) of more than 30-increased the likelihood of dementia, particularly Alzheimer's disease.

"Higher levels of all adiposity measures were associated with worsening cognitive function in men after controlling for metabolic disorders, adipocytokines, and sex hormone levels," the researchers wrote.

The study shows that maintaining cardiovascular health can literally save one's mind-and there is no shortage of fresh heart-healthy ingredients to help consumers achieve this.

Ingredients for a Healthy Heart
One study last month elaborated on protein extracted from yellow peas and its ability to reduce blood pressure and prevent chronic kidney disease.

In March, researchers from the University of Manitoba (Winnipeg, MB, Canada) purified a mixture of small protein from the yellow pea and fed small daily doses of the protein mixture to laboratory rats with chronic kidney disease.

At the end of the eight-week study period, the protein-fed rats with kidney disease showed a 20% drop in blood pressure compared with diseased rats on a normal diet, the researchers said.

"This is significant because a majority of patients with chronic kidney disease actually die from cardiovascular complications that arise from the high blood pressure associated with kidney malfunction," says the study's leading author Rotimi Aluko, a food chemist at the University of Manitoba.

In both rats and humans with chronic kidney disease, urine output is severely reduced and the kidneys are unable to properly remove dangerous toxins. The researchers showed that their yellow pea extract caused a 30% boost in urine production in the diseased rats, bringing their urine to within normal levels.

Aluko noted that the yellow peas must be processed with certain enzymes in products, because eating the peas alone will not produce the desired health benefits.

Green tea may also lower blood pressure. Another study, published in the January issue of Nutrition, found that daily supplements of extracts from green tea may decrease blood pressure, cholesterol, and markers of oxidative stress, all within three weeks. According to researchers at the University of Florida, reductions of systolic and diastolic blood pressures of 5 and 4 mmHg, respectively, were observed following daily supplements of green tea extracts, while total cholesterol levels were reduced by 10 mg/dl.

THE DIFFICULTIES IN MARKETING HEART-HEALTH INGREDIENTS

MANUFACTURERS CONTINUALLY FACE a mountain of loopholes when dealing with the dose, form, and structure-function claims of heart-healthy ingredients. "Drug claims and medical claims go hand-in-hand, which is why supplement manufacturers have a harder time figuring out what to put on their labels," notes Diana Chang, PhD, a medical practitioner based in Los Angeles. "Supplement manufacturers are always walking on a tightrope when telling consumers what benefits they are actually receiving."

Manufacturers producing heart-healthy ingredients understand the complexities in marketing their products. "We can't make a strong drug claim for our ingredient, of course, because it is not a drug; it is a supplement," said Pete Willis Sr., former marketing manager for DSM (Basel, Switzerland). DSM's blood pressure management ingredient, tensVida, won the Gold Award at Nutracon (Anaheim, CA) in March.

Companies should be straightforward about whether or not their products include high-enough percentages of heart-healthy ingredients for consumers to actually see benefits. "It would benefit companies to be clear with formulation and labeling," says Gretchen Vannice, MS, RD, the international science committee chair for the Global Organization for Omega-3 EPA and DHA (GOED; Salt Lake City). "For example, if you sprinkle some flaxseed powder into a product to boost its heart-healthy nutritional benefit, that will provide some nutrition. [However, if] it's not enough to reduce triglycerides, then it's [not] productive."

Vannice adds, "For example, it's not going to serve consumers well to [put heightened claims of] the amount of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in a product once they realize it's not doing them any good. Buyers don't need to experience an unnecessary state of confusion."

As for heightening label claims, Vannice discusses the discrepancies of heart-healthy claims on nutritional supplements and the doses consumers are actually receiving. She provides an example regarding omega-3s, one of the most scientifically studied supplements beneficial to heart health. "There is so much great science out there on the benefits of omega-3s. But the benefit is proportionate to the dose consumers are getting," she says.

For example, a pill containing 250 mg of omega-3 does not equate to 250 mg of DHA, the healthiest part of an omega-3 source. This causes unnecessary consumer confusion if a product is labeled to contain daily value of DHA.

Vannice gives another example. "Manufacturers shouldn't imply claims of DHA that are really ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) on labels, because ALA does not have the same benefits as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA. For example, flaxseeds and walnuts are not a substitute for marine-source omega-3, so being vague will only do the manufacturer harm."

Being honest with consumers is important because in the end, most consumers do not automatically feel a difference when taking a heart-healthy supplement, according to Chang.

"A consumer can't gauge the effectiveness of say, an omega-3, by saying to themselves, 'I haven't had a heart attack yet.' There's a level of trust placed in the manufacturer."

Chang says that 2009 will be an exciting year for novel heart-health ingredients. "So much research has been invested in studying new natural products to benefit cardiovascular health that we can only expect more good things," she says.

That's as long as consumers are not receiving the short end of the stick from manufacturers exaggerating product claims, according to Vannice. "Consumers believe they are doing the right thing by investing in natural products, and manufacturers have to uphold that trust."

If consumers are buying supplements in order to delay or prevent a health condition, Chang adds, they need to get enough of the right form to make a difference that is measurable or observable.

"Or else," says Chang, "they'll simply stop buying."

If green tea and yellow pea protein can help manage blood pressure, two botanical extracts may help stave off obesity and diabetes, which in turn, significantly affect the way the heart functions.

Proteins from flaxseed may reduce blood pressure and potentially reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, suggests a new study published in the Journal of Functional Foods.

According to the findings, flaxseed meal contains peptide amino acid sequences that may be exploited as potential food sources for lowering blood pressure based on their (ACE)-inhibitory activity.

According to the study's researchers, ACE inhibitors improve blood flow and blood pressure by inhibiting the conversion of angiotensin I to the potent vasoconstrictor.

The results of this study indicate that "flaxseed protein hydrolysates possess potential as a food source of antihypertensive agents," wrote the researchers.

"The flaxseed peptide fractions that inhibited both ACE and renin activities could potentially lower blood pressure when compared with peptides that inhibit ACE alone," the study concluded.

Late last year, researchers found that NP 06-1, a combination of two botanical extracts, Phellodendron amurense bark and Citrus sinensis peel, could control blood glucose levels.

After taking NP 06-1, both overweight and normal weight treatment groups lost a significant amount of weight compared with their respective placebo groups. The overweight treatment group lost an average of 5% body weight after 8 weeks, which was associated with a significant loss in BMI over time.

Next Pharmaceuticals' (Salinas, CA) heart-health ingredient, Flavoxine, heavily incorporates NP 06-1. By keeping inflammatory proteins under control, NP 06-1 helps manage lipid health. "Studies show that high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a proinflammatory cytokine, is associated with high lipids and coronary artery disease," according to Next Pharmaceuticals. "By keeping CRP and other proinflammatory cytokines in check, lipids are more likely to stay in a healthy range."

And by keeping the heart functioning in a healthier range, consumers mindful of their health may just end up keeping their sanity.

 

VITAMIN D'S VERY HEART-Y ROLE

ADOLESCENTS WITH HIGH INTAKES of vitamin D may have a healthier heart by having healthier body fat levels, a study from the Medical College of Georgia (MCG; Augusta, GA) reported in March.

Yanbin Dong and Inger Stallman-Jorgensen of MCG presented their findings at the American Heart Association's Joint 49th Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention and Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism.

A study testing more than 650 adolescents ages 14 to 19 found that only Caucasian males in the test group were consuming the recommended minimum intake of vitamin D, while African-American females had the lowest vitamin D intake. African-American females also had the higher percentages of both body fat and abdominal fat.

The study adds to science supporting the benefits of adequate vitamin D levels, with deficiency of the vitamin linked to osteoporosis, muscle weakness, fractures, common cancers, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases, and most seriously, cardiovascular diseases.

"We already know that encouraging teens to get an adequate amount of vitamin D in their diets will help promote a healthy body as they grow and develop," said Stallman-Jorgensen. "Now we need to do intervention studies where we give teens vitamin D supplements to determine whether there is a cause-and-effect relationship between vitamin D intake and fat."

The results have particular importance because abdominal fat, or visceral fat, has been linked to a range of health risks such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and hypertension.

Previously, researchers from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia reported that approximately 55% of seemingly healthy adolescents may be vitamin D deficient and thus are at increased risk of osteoporosis and other health problems later in life.