Heart Health

“Tis a tough season for your health . . . especially heart health.

Rich foods beckon . . . fitness routines fall to the wayside . . . and the stress of shopping, year-end to-do’s and socializing just adds to the mix.

But there are plenty of ways to give your heart that extra support it needs this month. And the beautiful, blood-red pomegranate is one.

A Heart Health Powerhouse

Researchers can’t help but get excited when it comes to pomegranate and heart health. In an article published in Alternative Therapies in 2008, noted herbalist, James Duke pointed out that pomegranate supports your heart in not just one – but ten different ways.

Among these is the way pomegranate helps you maintain a healthy blood flow. This is critical for heart health since the more easily blood moves around inside you, the less work for your heart.

So how does this lovely fruit keep the blood moving?

To find out, let’s go on a little kayak ride through your arteries…

Inside Your Arteries

Ideally, your blood should follow a nice smooth course. Like a river following a strong current. The consistent flow keeps the walls of your arteries smooth, the cells stretched out and relaxed. You can paddle along nicely here.

But in places where a turn in the path or obstruction hampers the flow, the blood gets a little turbulent and slows down. It even pools up a bit. These areas are where stuff tends to accumulate. Just like the silt and debris that build up along the curves and eddies of a river, gunk like cholesterol collects where the blood flow starts to creep.

And it gets worse.

When the cholesterol sitting there gets oxidized, it triggers a chain of events. The oxidized cholesterol signals an inflammation response. Immune cells like macrophages migrate to the trouble spot along with even more cholesterol.

And the cells in the artery wall change themselves. They become bulky and divide more frequently, making the artery wall even thicker.

Adding to the mess, the artery cells in these trouble spots stop producing an important molecule – nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps your artery wall cells to relax and protects them against oxidation.

With time, this area in your arteries thickens and accumulates materials to form a plaque.

Keeping The Blood Moving

Researchers have found pomegranate helps keeps your arteries healthy and blood flowing freely in four ways:

1.  Pomegranate keeps your cholesterol levels healthy.  Truth is, cholesterol has gotten a bad rap. Your body uses it for repair, building hormones, vitamin D and more. But still, you don’t want too much of it in your blood since it can add to the debris accumulation described above. In one study, within 8 weeks pomegranate helped the participants maintain healthy total cholesterol levels and low-density cholesterol levels.

2.  Pomegranate helps artery walls stay healthy and flexible.  The Journal of Clinical Nutrition published one study that tracked 19 people over the course of a year. The ten participants who took pomegranate juice regularly experienced a reduction of artery wall thickness by 30%. The group not taking pomegranate had an increased thickness of 9%.

3.  Pomegranate’s antioxidant power prevents cholesterol oxidation.  In this same study, participants ended up with 90% less oxidized cholesterol than they did when they started taking pomegranate juice a year earlier. Pomegranate offers more antioxidant protection than blueberries, green tea or red wine.

4.  Pomegranate seems to support healthy levels of nitric oxide in your arteries, allowing the arteries to relax.  In preliminary animal studies, researchers at the School of Medicine in Naples, Italy saw a 50% increase in nitric oxide levels in those slow-flow spots after the mice in the experiment had pomegranate juice or extract. Pomegranate seems to both protect nitric oxide from oxidation and increase its production.

While both pomegranate juice and pomegranate extract provided this healthy support, the extract with the polyphenol punicalagin seems to work especially well.

So keep up your healthy habits for this season strewn with heart hazards. Enjoy some treats . . . but in moderation. Try to squeeze in a little exercise. Keep your schedule as simple as possible.

And then add some pomegranate to this mix. It will help keep you and your heart healthy into the New Year.

It’s the stuff of fairy tales and quite a few Harlequin romances. It may even play a treasured role in your own family history. Story after wonderful story tells of how two hearts find each other after a lifetime of travails and separation.

Underlying this story is the understanding that when it comes to matters of the heart . . . with age comes wisdom.

The older heart is the wiser one. It sees through the false glitter that may have interfered with valuing the object of its affection earlier. And it can truly appreciate the important things in life and love.

And more often than not, the older heart has learned to take the bumps and bruises of life in stride. Despite tribulations, it keeps loving. Often more deeply and more strongly than before. It has gained perspective and experience.

Aging Not So Gracefully

Unfortunately that is not reflected in the physical reality of our bodies. The wisdom that life’s challenges bring to us does not translate well to the muscle of our heart. Or the arteries that carry our life force around the body.

Instead, our heart is often tired and weaker than decades ago. It’s had to contract hundreds of millions of times to keep us alive. And with poor diet, stress and a few genetic factors thrown in, our body’s major highways – the arteries – have also suffered. Roadside debris litters our arteries in the form of plaques, threatening to dislodge and cause a fatal accident. And the artery walls themselves have toughened and thickened like a moss-overgrown battlements.

Older Women At Risk

These age-related problems haunt both men and women in their later years. But women have a particular angle on heart health. Before menopause, women lag far behind men when it comes to heart disease risk. We experience a tenth of the risk on average.

As we age, this changes and we start to catch up. By age 60 it becomes the main cause of death for women. In fact 6 times as many women die from heart disease than breast cancer.

Some of this is just the gradual effects of aging that both men and women face. But some seem to be more related to the change in hormones that comes with menopause.

A recent published study revealed just this. It turns out that cholesterol levels, a factor in heart disease risk, could be directly linked to this hormonal shift. Researchers from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) study reported in the Journal of American College of Cardiology, that within a year of their last period, women’s cholesterol levels consistently made a dramatic jump. On average, women’s LDL (or bad cholesterol) rose by about 10.5 points or 9% while average total cholesterol rose by about 6.5%.

In a Health Magazine interview, Dr. Vera Bittner, who wrote an editorial that accompanied the published study, noted that while the change may seem minor, it can be cumulative. And for women with borderline cholesterol health, it can make all the difference.

However, the authors of this study are careful to attribute only cholesterol levels to hormones. Others heart disease risk factors, like systolic blood pressure and insulin resistance, seemed to be more age-related.

Hormones and Heart Health: Dangerous Myths and Realities

Their caution comes on the heels of decades of medical misinformation that dumped all the risk factors for cardiovascular disease along with every other sign of female aging into estrogen-deficiency. In an eager push to get every menopausal woman on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), doctors added cardiovascular disease prevention to the list of benefits brought by adding more estrogen to our blood.

Actually, the opposite was true.

Two large-scale studies – The Boston Nurses Questionnaire Study conducted in 1991 and the Framingham Heart Study, conducted in 1985 – found nothing of the sort. In fact, not only did they find that taking synthetic estrogen did nothing to alter the risk of heart disease for women, they found that it actually increased the rate of stroke.

By 50%!

Researchers looking more closely into the hormone-heart disease relationship found that in fact, too much estrogen may actually undermine your cardiovascular health. In fact, it’s progesterone, the hormone that plays an opposite and complementary role in our menstrual cycle, that is more likely the key to post-menopausal heart health.

As Dr. Sherrill Sellman reports in her book, Hormone Heresy, progesterone helps keep cell membranes healthy while estrogen lets water and sodium into cells, contributing to high blood pressure.

Furthermore, progesterone reduces inflammation, one of the primary risk factors in heart disease. It helps with sleep. It reduces stress. And this hormone, which goes down to zero with menopause, actually helps us burn fats for energy.

And when it comes to plaques in our arteries, progesterone actually seems to help stop them from forming. According to the late hormone and cardiovascular disease researcher, Dr. John Lee, progesterone stops the creation of foam cells. Foam cells are immune system cells (macrophages) that take in oxidized bad cholesterol. As these cells gobble up unhealthy cholesterol, they swell up, causing the artery walls to bulge and toughen, shrinking the artery opening.

Progesterone stops this by intervening with the enzyme that allows macrophages to eat up cholesterol.

Beware of False Progesterones!

Back peddling furiously, several pharmaceutical companies added chemicals called progesterone to their therapeutic mixes. However, they are actually progestins, synthesized chemicals that closely resemble progesterone, but have been altered slightly in order to patent them.

These slight alterations can make all the difference in what happens once these progestins hit your body. Progestins interfere with the biological activity of natural progesterone and this production.

What You Can Do To Nourish Your Wise Heart

So take this extra bit of wisdom to heart. As you age, your heart needs a little tender loving care.

Your heart may not be as tough as you may be.

If you are considering HRT or any synthetic form of estrogen or progesterone, reconsider. If you’re using it now, look into tapering off. The costs to your aging heart are high.

Better alternatives are natural progesterone and its precursors found in plant sources like pomegranate leaves, soybeans and wild yam.

Exercise, eat right – all that good stuff. Both diet and activity can have a tremendous effect on cholesterol health. And they can also help us weather hormonal changes.

Make it a love story you write for yourself and those who love you. A promise to keep your heart – and the rest of you – strong and healthy for years to come.

Modern women at midlife have many options when it comes to dealing with those nasty menopausal symptoms like mood swings, depression, bone loss, and fluctuating estrogen levels. But their most surprising source of natural relief may come from an ancient food: the juicy pomegranate.

Pomegranates have been cultivated for over 4,000 years. Our word pomegranate dates back to around 750 B.C. and comes from the Latin “Punicum malum” meaning “Phoenician apple.” Today the fruit is often called a “Chinese apple.”

Despite its frequent comparison to an apple, the pomegranate bears a striking resemblance to the female ovary. It is not too surprising, then, that it served as a symbol of fertility for the Zoroastrians and other ancient cultures.

Fruits in general are defined as “the developed ovary of a seed plant” but in the case of the pomegranate fruit, the physical resemblance to a human female ovary is striking. Looking at a cross section of each reveals how similar are the containers for the pomegranate’s seeds and the ovary’s eggs.

But the pomegranate’s resemblance to the female ovary goes beyond its physical similarities. The fruit also provides the very same estrogens as the female ovary – estradiol, estrone and estriol.

What does this mean for a menopausal woman? It may very well mean relief from depressive moods and a lower risk of osteoporosis, breast cancer and heart disease.

Bone Loss Reversed

In a 2004 study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, rats who had their ovaries removed suffered accelerated bone loss, a typical symptom of menopause. When they were fed an extract of pomegranate juice and seeds for just 2 weeks, however, their bone mineral loss reverted to normal rates.

Mood Improvement

The same Japanese researchers in the 2004 study also found that the rats given pomegranate extract measured lower levels of depression indicators. Based on their results the authors found it conceivable that pomegranate would be clinically effective for women exhibiting a depressive state.

Heart Health

The rate of death from coronary heart disease in women after menopause is 2 to 3 times that of women the same age before menopause. Here again, pomegranates provide proven healing benefits:

  • Lowers Cholesterol – A 2000 study found that pomegranate juice is rich in antioxidants which prevent LDL (bad) cholesterol from oxidizing and leading to atherosclerosis.
  • Lower blood pressure – A small 2004 clinical study by Israeli researchers concluded that drinking one glass a day of pomegranate juice may lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol oxidation, and reversed the plaque buildup in their carotid arteries by up to 29%.
  • Blood clotting – One study in the Journal of Medicinal Foods showed that pomegranate juice slows down platelet aggregation and thins blood, preventing clotting.
  • Improves coronary heart disease – Several different studies have found that cardiovascular health is improved with the use of pomegranate juice since it reduces plaque, increases nitric oxide, and may prevent plaque from building in the arteries in some patients.
  • Increases oxygen flow – A 2007 study showed that drinking eight ounces of pomegranate juice daily for three months increased oxygen flow to the heart muscle in coronary patients.

Breast Cancer

Lab studies have shown pomegranate anthocyanidins (sugarless plant pigments), flavonoids, and oils exert anticancer effects against breast tumors.

Although some women worry that foods with estrogenic properties may increase the risk of breast cancer, that isn’t the case. In fact, pomegranate is a natural adaptogen, increasing levels of estrogen when the body is low but blocking stronger estrogens when levels are too high. This innate intelligence to adapt its function to the body’s needs is an incredible benefit that natural foods have over pharmaceuticals.

In fact, pomegranate extract was compared to the drugs Tamoxifen and Estradiol in a 2011 study in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. The researchers suggested that the pomegranate extract may potentially prevent estrogen dependent breast cancers.

How do pomegranates work their magic?

An 8 ounce glass of pomegranate juice contains about 40% of the RDA of vitamin C, and also is rich in vitamins A and E and folic acid.

The pomegranate fruit contains antioxidants called phytochemicals, which protect plants from harmful elements in the environment. These same phytochemicals, when ingested, protect the cells in our body. The juice has been found to contain higher levels of antioxidants than most other fruit juices, including cranberry or blueberry, and more even than red wine or green tea.

Drink the juice or eat the seeds (yes, they are edible) to reap the benefits of this menopause miracle.

Source: GreenMedInfo, “Amazing Fact: Pomegranate Can Serve as a Backup Ovary”

Author Bio:

Margie King is a holistic health coach and graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition®. A Wharton M.B.A. and practicing corporate attorney for 20 years, Margie left the world of business to pursue her passion for all things nutritious. She now works with midlife women and busy professionals to improve their health, energy and happiness through individual and group coaching, as well as webinars, workshops and cooking classes. To contact Margie, visit www.NourishingMenopause.com.


My mother recently suffered a stroke. It was quite a shock to us even though she had been on blood pressure medication for years.

She’s not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 1 in 3 U.S. adults—an estimated 68 million—has high blood pressure. And that means they’re at higher risk not just for stroke but also for heart disease and kidney disease.

My mother gets that. For years she’s been watching her sodium just as the doctor orders. She’s never been a junk food eater, and she’s learned to pass up ham and canned soups, and rinse her canned beans. But she’s pretty attached to bread, bagels and pasta which can be sneaky sources of hidden sodium.

But in watching her salt, my mother may have only gotten it half right. Because lower blood pressure is not just about lower sodium, it’s also about higher potassium. As with so many things in our bodies, balance is everything.

What’s the vitality ratio?

The balance between sodium and potassium is so critical to our wellbeing that it’s been dubbed the “vitality ratio.”

Here’s why. Potassium and sodium work together to maintain your body’s optimal fluid levels. When your sodium levels drift up, your body retains fluid putting pressure on your blood vessels. Potassium operates to help excrete the excess sodium in your urine.

Potassium also relaxes blood vessel walls helping to relieve blood pressure.

A Netherlands study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine looked at potassium consumption in 21 countries and concluded that increasing potassium in your diet could contribute significantly to improving blood pressure.

But most of us don’t get enough potassium. The Netherlands study found that average potassium intake varies between 1.7 and 3.7 grams a day. That’s significantly less than the recommended 4.7 grams.

At the same time, it’s estimated that 98% of Americans take in twice the recommended amount of sodium. You can see how your vitality ratio could get way out of whack.

The researchers in the study claim that increasing our potassium to 4.7 grams per day would have the same effect on blood pressure as decreasing daily salt consumption by 4 grams. That’s huge.

How do you get more potassium into your diet?

Potassium is widely available in our food supply and can be found in whole grains, dairy products, meat and fish.

Fresh fruits are excellent sources of potassium. The highest levels are found in melons (cantaloupe, casaba and honeydew) which have almost 500 mg in a cup. Pomegranates are also a good choice with about 533 mg in a cup of the juice. Other excellent sources include apricots, bananas, nectarines, oranges, prunes and papayas.

When it comes to vegetables, the best sources are avocados, artichokes and leafy greens like spinach, Swiss chard and beet greens. Other sources include beans, beets, bok choi, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, mushrooms, potatoes (skin on), squash, tomatoes and yams.
Add more of these potassium-rich foods to your diet for a better vitality ratio.

Reference: Wageningen University and Research Centre (2010, September 13). Consumption of ‘good salt’ can reduce population blood pressure levels, research finds. ScienceDaily.

Author Bio:

Margie King is a holistic health coach and graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition®. A Wharton M.B.A. and practicing corporate attorney for 20 years, Margie left the world of business to pursue her passion for all things nutritious. She now works with midlife women and busy professionals to improve their health, energy and happiness through individual and group coaching, as well as webinars, workshops and cooking classes. To contact Margie, visit www.NourishingMenopause.com.