In the eighteenth century, seasoned sailors found that by sucking on lemons they could avoid scurvy, a debilitating disease that often developed during long voyages when fresh fruits and vegetables were scarce. When the lemon’s key nutrient was formally identified in 1928, it was named ascorbic acid for its anti-scurvy, or antiscorbutic, action. Today ascorbic acid is widely known as vitamin C.
Taurine, an amino acid derivative found in meat and other animal foods (except for milk and milk products), appears to shield the heart from harm. It’s best known for empowering bile acids to clear cholesterol from the body. It may also fight cellular troublemakers that can damage the heart. Studies in animals suggest that taurine lowers blood pressure as well–yet another heart-healthy property. Although research has produced conflicting results, taurine may also benefit vision disorders, epilepsy, and gallstones.
Essential for hundreds of chemical reactions that occur in the body every second, the mineral magnesium has received surprisingly little attention over the years. Recent findings, however, suggest that it also has important health-promoting benefits, from an ability to prevent heart disease to a role in treating such chronic conditions as fibromyalgia and diabetes.
Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha), a rose family member popularly planted along hedges to deter trespassers with its prickly branches, has heart-healthy properties that ancient Greeks and Native Americans recognized centuries ago. Its modern reputation as a healing agent dates to Victorian times, when an Irish physician’s secret heart formula was ultimately revealed to contain a tincture made from the bright red berries.
A source of fiber for linen fabric since ancient times, the slender flax plant (Linum usitatissimum) also boasts a long history as a healing herb. First cultivated in Europe, the plant’s brown seeds were regularly used to prepare balms for inflamed skin and healing slurries for constipation. Today, flaxseeds–also called linseeds–are best known for the therapeutic oil that is derived by pressing them. Rich in essential fatty acids, or EFAs, flaxseed oil has earned a solid reputation for treating a range of ailments, from heart disease to lupus.
Heralded for its heart-healthy actions, fish oils offer high concentrations of polyunsaturated fats called omega-3-fatty acids. While all fish contain these fats, cold-water fish–salmon, sea bass, tuna, trout, mackerel–are particularly rich sources because of their diet: plankton packed with omega-3s. Interestingly, the colder the water, the more omega-3s in the plankton. Cold-water fish also boast the most potent forms of omega-3s: the essential fatty acids known as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). Consumed as part of a fish-filled diet or in supplement form, omega-3s have myriad healing powers.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
One of the world’s most popular supplements, the chemical coenzyme Q10 has generated great excitement as a heart disease remedy and a cure for countless other conditions. The body naturally produces this compound, which has been dubbed “vitamin Q” because of its essential role in keeping all systems running smoothly. In fact, the scientists who identified coenzyme Q10 in 1957 initially honored its ubiquitous presence–it’s found in every human cell and in all living organisms–by naming it “ubiquinone.” Small amounts are also present in most foods.
Carnitine is an amino acid-like compound that helps the body produce energy. While readily abundant in meats and dairy foods, some people take carnitine in supplement form to increase vitality. Carnitine transports fatty acids to the “factory” portion of cells, which then convert the fat into energy that the heart, muscles, and other body tissues can use.