According to government statistics, prior to 1921 the leading cause of death in the United States fluctuated between tuberculosis and influenza pneumonia. However, since then, heart disease has reigned supreme as the major cause of death.
The trend is important because heart disease is regarded as an age and lifestyle-related cause, where the others are infectious diseases. In recent decades, cancer has grown to be statistically competitive with heart disease, but heart disease remains at the top of the list.
In this month’s Juvenon Health Journal we will explore the heart and how age and lifestyle choices can influence overall cardiac health. Importantly, we will also examine two compounds that can greatly benefit cardiac function, according to recent research.
Our Most Failure Prone Organ
Today a huge body of genetic, metabolic and biochemical research supports this basic truth: when it comes to aging, the heart is the most failure prone component of the modern human machine.
Indeed this simple statement spurs a slew of follow-up questions. Why is this organ so failure prone? Do scientists have the key to stemming the tide in what seems to be a natural process? And finally, how do lifestyle choices up the ante for heart disease?
What Fuels Your Heart?
To fully understand the heart risk factors, one must first understand how this crucial organ is fueled at the cellular level.
The heart is metabolically unique from all other organs. It necessarily evolved that way, out of the need for extreme reliability. While your muscles, organs and central nervous system routinely operate using glucose as the chief fuel to power their cellular systems, the heart preferably utilizes lipids a.k.a. fat molecules. The heart uses fat because it can afford to run out of energy. Fat is a relatively abundant and efficient fuel that mitochondria use to produce cellular energy. In cellular biology, cardiac muscle cells — called cardiomyocytes — are most notable because they are mitochondria-rich and very long lived.
Age and Lifestyle Influences
Here’s how age causes specific and notable changes to the heart:
- Blood vessels within the heart become thickened and stiffer; the heart wall will thicken to help with blood flow.
- Heart valves become thicker and stiffer, causing leaks and pumping problems.
- The cross sectional size of the heart increases.
- The heart tissue switches to quick, but inefficient metabolism of glucose in place of normal, fat-fueled metabolism.
More importantly, lifestyle-related risks such as smoking, obesity, diabetes, lack of exercise and stress contribute to disease of the heart, which is marked by cellular senescence, dysfunction and death.
In order to give your heart the best chance of lasting as long as you’ll need it, it’s important to limit the contribution of lifestyle related risks to heart disease.
Natural Compounds Offer Hope For Heart Repair
Understandably, if there were any reasonable means of limiting or even repairing and enhancing lost heart function, it would be of great interest.
Enter lipoic acid (LA) and acetyl-carnitine (ALCAR). These two compounds are natural cofactors for mitochondrial lipid metabolism enzymes. Specifically, they can be delivered therapeutically via nutrition. Together, these compounds specifically facilitate the transport and ‘burning’ of fat molecules in mitochondria. They are readily absorbed by the gut and pass into the bloodstream and tissues.
A legacy of animal studies, cell culture experiments and human clinical trials demonstrate that these compounds are strong positive effectors of cardiac health and may perhaps even limit certain indices of aging and heart disease. LA and ALCAR, especially in combination, help the heart efficiently utilize less-damaging fats instead of glucose as a primary fuel source. Fats “burn” more efficiently in the mitochondria and make 30% less damaging free radicals than carbohydrates.
The combination has also been shown to positively affect nitric oxide signaling– responsible for lowering blood pressure and preserving cardiac tone. Other research shows that LA and ALCAR can limit markers of oxidative and inflammatory stress in the heart as well.
No animal model has actually shown these nutritional compounds to be effective at lengthening life. However, it stands to reason that if they can improve cardiac function, they may have the potential to improve the quality of life in the aged.
In the coming months, the Juvenon Health Journal will continue to feature research that will help you stay informed and healthy. By offering effective, all-natural supplements and health news you can use, Juvenon provides an essential toolkit to battle aging enemies.
CDC National Center for Health Statistics “Leading Causes of Death: 1900-1998” online publication at www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/dvs/lead1900_98.pdfNorth BJ & Sinclair DA. (2012) Circ Res. 110:1097-1108
Smith AR, et al. (2008) Br J Pharmacol. 153(8):1615-22
Hagen TM, et al. (2002) Ann N Y Acad Sci. 959:491-507