Tag Archives: Circulatory system

Holding Back the Years

Don’t know about you, but I fully intend to be CUTE when I’m 90, cute, spry and agile! Perhaps because I’ve been blessed with more than a couple 90 plus friends who’ve shown me what we have to look forward to; or because I have faith in the human body’s ability to achieve a long life when properly cared for.

True, there are many unavoidable consequences of aging- reduced production of vital bodily chemicals, resulting in the probable decline of things such as bone density, joint flexibility, metabolic efficiency and physical resilience, to name a few. But we are not powerless to affect change in the aging process. In fact much can be done to slow and even offset these effects. Accepting the need to change our ways with the times, maintaining healthy diet and exercise habits, keeping our vices in check, and staying abreast of our states of health are all at the top of the list. And for many, a particular class of nutrients has nestled right beneath. The OPCs-oligomeric proanthocyanidans. What a mouthful! Thank goodness for the abbreviation.

OPCs are a sub-group of the powerfully antioxidant, organic chemicals called flavonoids. They have more than 50 times the potency of Vitamin E and 20 times that of Vitamin C. This is partly due to their high level of bioavailability, short fancy speak for the physiological availability of a nutrient. They are natural substances that can be found in many foods, primarily plant-based ones. The body absorbs them quickly because of their water-soluble nature.

OPCs also work with the body’s intrinsic antioxidants like glutathione to regenerate other essential nutrients like Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Uniquely, OPC’s are able to cross the blood brain barrier and thus directly impact the health of the brain and nervous system, protecting them from damaging free radicals:

“An atom or group of atoms that contain at least one unpaired electron… If an electron is unpaired, another atom or molecule can easily bond with it, causing a chemical reaction.”*

Because necessary biological processes occur from chemical reactions, free radicals are not the bad guys. But one does go on to produce another, and so on; and like all things, too many of them can create a dangerous environment, especially for our cells.

“…antioxidants neutralize free radicals by binding to their free electrons…by destroying free radicals, antioxidants help to detoxify and protect the body.”*

Additionally OPCs act as anti-inflammatorys by reducing the body’s production of histamine; anti-aging agents by repairing and strengthening the body’s connective tissues (joints, ligaments, tendons, etc.) and cardiovascular system; and immune enhancers by inhibiting certain viruses. Two of the most potent OPCs are Pycnogenol and grape seed extract.

The French Fountain of Youth

Pycnogenol is the trademarked name for an extract of the bark from the French coastal Maritime Pine Tree. It is especially beneficial to circulatory health, helping to strengthen blood vessel integrity. Maintaining healthy, strong blood vessels helps to keep the blood and therefore oxygen flowing freely to the heart.  Along with those health benefits, the side bonuses can include reduced occurrence or appearance of varicose and spider veins and decreased darkness of bruises and skin discolorations.

Pycnogenol’s ability to enhance circulation also makes it useful for exercisers, both pre and post. The additional blood and oxygen fuel the muscles and prime them for longer bouts of activity, and the antioxidant regenerating capabilities help the body recover from the oxidative stress created by more intense and longer duration activities.

Pycnogenol is unique because this pine bark extract is composed of such a high percentage, as much as 65-75%, of procyanidans (part of the antioxidant group known as proanthocyanidans). Procyanidins, as previously mentioned, are able to increase cellular levels of Vitamin C and E. They are also able to bond with collagen and thereby help maintain the elasticity of our skin, joints, hair and nails and the health of our bones, gums and teeth.

The Value in Vino

Fruits and vegetables, rich in vitamins, potas...
Image via Wikipedia

Grape seed extract, also a strong source of procyanidans, is pulled from various types of grapes, though it is thought that the wine-producing ones offer the greatest health benefits. Among other beneficial nutrients, grape seeds also contain the substance resveratrol.

Resveratrol is present in both the skin and seeds of wine-producing grapes. In scientific studies it has demonstrated cardio protective potential, decreasing LDL cholesterol (potentially artery clogging low- density lipoprotein) levels and preventing blood clots and blood vessel damage.

Resveratrol has been given credit for the low incidence of heart disease experienced by the French despite the relatively high consumption of rich and fatty foods and prevalence of cigarette smoking within their culture.

In addition to enhancing heart health, resveratrol also has its own reputation for enhancing physical beauty by helping the body renew damaged skin and worn muscle fibers.

Working OPCs into your Regimen

Pycnogenol and grape seed extract are not the only OPC containing foods. Procyanidans can also be found in apples (the highest amounts in Red Delicious and Granny Smiths), cinnamon, cocoa beans, green tea, bilberries, cranberries, black currants and acai oil pressed from the fruits of the acai palm. Resveratrol is present in peanuts (sprouted nuts yield higher amounts), blueberries and cocoa powder among other foods. Adding these foods to your diet is easy enough, but if you’d rather supplement the nutrients there are many ways to do so.

Now Foods Pycnogenol 30 MG 150 Caps Resveratrol 200 (120 tablet) by Source Naturals

Pycnogenol is available in capsule form, in a range of dosages. It is not inexpensive, so it’s totally appropriate to supplement it conservatively. For circulatory benefits and general wellness enhancement, I currently take one 30mg capsule before bed. Doses can be as high 200mg twice daily for assistance with muscular endurance and blood pressure reduction. But this should be advised by a physician or other qualified health care practitioner. Pycnogenol should not be taken by pregnant or nursing women or people taking immune-suppressing medications.

Grape seed extract and resveratrol are available in both capsule and liquid forms as well as chews and gummies. As these are not essential nutrients, there is no set recommended dosage. Like all supplemental nutrients, you want to look for the purest products that clearly state what percentage of that nutrient is contained in them. For both grape seed extract and resveratrol, that may be anywhere from 50mg to 500mg per serving. Some resveratrol studies have indicated that people in their 20’s can benefit from 100-200mg/day, with those in their 30’s safely supplementing  200-300 mg and people 40 years of age and older seeing the greatest results from the higher doses of 450-500mg/day. Currently there are no known adverse side effects, even in high daily doses. But, like Pynogenol, pregnant and nursing women should avoid supplementation until further research is available.

I think that’ll do for now folks. Be sure to make some time to take a load off, kick up your feet, and turn back the clock with a little indulgence.

Until Next Week, Be Wise and BeWell

*Balch, Phyllis A. A Prescription for Nutritional Healing. NY, NY. The Penguin Group

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I Heart You: The Tale of Q & A

There are, no doubt, many nutrients that benefit the heart and cardiovascular system, the EPA component of omega 3 fatty acids and the grape seed extract of red wine to name a couple. But two crucial nutrients are especially worthy of attention, if not for the multi faceted support they actually provide, then to dispel the claims of what they’ve been rumored to do.

Coenzymes Q10 and A, Our Silent Helpers

First, what is a coenzyme? A substance that works with an enzyme to perform its function

And so, what is an enzyme? A protein that acts as a catalyst for a chemical action*

Our cardiovascular system is comprised of the heart, blood vessels and blood that carry nutrients through our bodies. A healthily functioning system relies upon many biological conditions and processes to properly perform its duties, including effective nutrient metabolism, sufficient energy production, and efficient circulation. And these are all aided by various enzymes of which Coenzyme Q 10 and Coenzyme A are the king and queen.

The King

Interestingly enough, the existence of Coenzyme Q10 was first reported in 1957, simultaneously, by two different scientists. One Dr. Frederick Crane of Wisconsin isolated it from the heart of a cow and another Professor Morton of England extracted it from the liver of a rat. It is from this widespread presence that CoQ10 gets part of its scientific name, ubiquinone. Partially from the word ubiquitous, meaning that it exists everywhere.

Ubiquinone, aka CoQ10, is made by the body and present in every nook and cranny. But, the majority of this nutrient’s reserves are found in the heart. CoQ10 is critically involved in the production of the primary cellular fuel adenosine triphosphate, or ATP for short. All cells depend on ATP to perform their duties; but the body only stores small amounts of ATP at any given time and thus has to constantly produce the substance. CoQ10 actually carries the necessary protons and electrons into the energy producing portion of the cells for ATP synthesis. There, CoQ10 is stored and used by that cell to perform its specific actions or functions. Inside the heart, this function is to circulate blood. So, without CoQ10 the heart could not perform because it would not have the energy to do so.

Additionally, CoQ10 helps the cells break down and utilize fats and cholesterol, aids circulation and thus the flow of oxygen to the heart, helps lower blood pressure and provides a potent anti-oxidant. The body converts CoQ10/ubiquinone to the active antioxidant compound ubiquinol. Ubiquinol is thought to be more adept than Vitamin E at protecting our hearts from oxidative damage.

Because the body’s ability to convert CoQ10 to ubiquinol declines with age, it is thought that supplementation of the ubiquinol form should begin in the 40’s and should definitely be included in the treatment program of those with histories of cardiovascular disease or heart attack. Most CoQ10 supplements are in the ubiquinone form and suitable for preventive purposes. The richest natural sources are oily fish like mackerel, salmon and sardines; but good amounts are also found in organ meats, peanuts, whole grains and spinach.

Many mental and physical performance enhancers now include CoQ10 because of its role in ATP production, but you shouldn’t expect to “feel” the power of ubiquinone as it doesn’t energize in the way that caffeine or sugar does. In fact, unless you are managing a cardiovascular or circulatory ailment you may not feel the work performed by this nutrient at all. The measure of its effectiveness may instead lie in what you won’t feel-unprotected and vulnerable to cardiovascular disease.

The Queen

Coenzyme A, aka CoA, has a few things in common with CoQ10. It too was first defined in the 1950’s and it is also present in all of the body’s cells. Coenzyme A works with CoQ10 to generate energy and metabolize fats; and it supports the adrenal glands’ production of stress managing hormones like cortisone. CoA also aids the body in the removal of toxins. It is believed to be the most active metabolic enzyme within the human body, acting as a catalyst to more than a hundred different chemical reactions.**

CoA is essential to our body’s processing and utilization of carbohydrates and fats. It helps the cells generate energy from glucose, and it carries fatty acids from the cell’s cytoplasm (the jelly like cellular filling) to the mitochondria (the cell’s energy production center). In this way, CoA actually starts the process of fatty acid metabolism and initiates the cell’s energy/ATP producing cycle.

Without Coenzyme A, approximately 90% of the body’s required energy would go unproduced, and consequently the processes fueled by this energy would go unfulfilled. This includes the work of the heart muscle, to which ATP greatly contributes. CoA thus becomes a cardio-protective nutrient through its role in ATP production and ATP’s role in increasing the heart muscle’s strength, density, energy and stamina.

United They Stand

Supplemental CoQ10 is available in a range of doses and can be taken in the powdered, liquid, gel, pill and even quick dissolving tab form; but the liquid and gel forms are thought to be best. Ubiquinone is better absorbed when taken with fatty foods, and the ubiquinol form is the most absorbable, consequently requiring much lighter dosages and smaller amounts.

30-50 mg/day of CoQ10 is appropriate for young healthy individuals, 50-200 mg is beneficial for heavy exercisers and middle-aged persons, and those with cardiovascular risks such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol may be prescribed doses as high as 400 mg/day. In most cases, CoQ10 can be taken along side cholesterol lowering statin medications without interference and can therefore help counteract the ubiquinone deficiency often caused by this class of drugs. Be selective when purchasing CoQ10 supplements; the purer the better and the color is a good gauge of this. The nutrient is naturally a bright yellow/orange color and virtually tasteless. Store the supplement in a dark cool place for safe keeping.

CoA is produced from Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) so sufficient levels of this nutrient must be maintained in order to insure CoA levels are adequate. A 50-100 mg/day dose should do the trick. Coincidentally, pantothenic is derived from the Greek word pantos which means “everywhere” and refers to its abundant presence in foods. Sound familiar? It even has some food sources in common with CoQ10- organ meats, whole grains, peanuts and spinach. Egg yolks, fish, chicken, cheese and dried beans are also good sources.***For supplemental options, Coenzyme-A Technologies, Inc is a highly regarded source.

Please don’t hesitate to check with your physician before adding these nutrients to your regimen. Happy healthy heart month! And as always…

BeWell

*http://chemistry.about.com/od/chemistryglossary/g/Coenzyme-Definition.htm

** http://www.electronichealing.co.uk/products/coenzyme.htm

*** Hass, MD, Elson M.(1992). Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Berkeley,CA. Celestial Arts Publishing