For Your Health: Herbs for Your Heart

Nutrition supplements, vitamins, minerals, and more

| November/December 1999

A substance that can help prevent heart disease—America’s number one killer—is available right on the shelf of your local health-food store. It may also fight fatigue, ease symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), treat asthma, and help control diabetes. This natural mineral is abundant; it’s found in shellfish, soybeans, barley, nuts, and a variety of other sources.

The substance is magnesium, which might be called “life’s lubricant.” It relaxes and expands blood vessels, stops muscle cramping, prevents inflammation, and allows energy to be used more efficiently. It does this by blocking the influx of calcium into cells. But magnesium also works with calcium to maintain both bone density and nerve and muscle impulses. Together magnesium and calcium compete and cooperate, one flowing into a cell while the other flows out. This balance of both minerals is supremely important to the functioning of cells, ­allowing them to excrete what they do not need and ­absorb nutrients they do need.

Most Americans don’t eat enough whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, so our magnesium intake is low. A recent Gallup survey revealed that 72 percent of adult Americans fall short of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of between 300 and 400 mg for magnesium; 55 percent of adults consume 75 percent or less of the RDA; 30 percent get less than half.

Heart health

Magnesium is key to maintaining a healthy heart. Having discovered low magnesium levels in the blood and heart muscles of heart attack victims, many researchers now believe that this same deficiency can be linked to hardening of the arteries and hypertension. They even consider magnesium deficiency a contributing factor in atherosclerosis, the accumulation of fats within arterial walls.

Magnesium contributes to healthy heart functioning in other ways, too. For example, when we lack magnesium, calcium deposits can accumulate in our soft tissues, increasing the risk of a spasm in the muscular tissue surrounding the coronary arteries—the source of all blood and oxygen for the heart.

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