As the invincibility of youth gives way to the reality of aging, one key issue on the mind of any man or woman entering their middle aged years is cardiovascular health. Everyone understands the importance of eating nutritious foods. This impacts your weight, your energy level and, ultimately, your cardiovascular health. However, in this day and age of processed foods, what are we REALLY putting into our bodies?

Heart HealthAccording to WebMD.com, Americans spend $20 billion dollars annually on herbs and supplements And heart health supplements top the list. They range from fish oil to flaxseed oil to artichoke to garlic extracts. Is there any evidence that these really work? Can they really lower LDL "bad" cholesterol or triglycerides – or raise HDL "good" cholesterol"? Just as important, which vitamins and supplements should you consider taking for heart health?

Well, in a nutshell, certain supplements really do promote cardiovascular health – and have been clinically validated. There are several great supplements for heart health. My three favorites are:

CoQ10 (Ubiquinol): CoQ10 is one of those encompassing dietary supplements with both general health benefits (e.g., anti-aging, antioxidant) as well as specific health applications (e.g., cardiovascular, diabetes, etc). It is a fundamental component in energy production, immune response and protection against damage by free radicals.

Co-Q10 is part of the mitochondrial electron transport system and is synthesized in all cells. It is essential to the body’s production of energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This holds special importance for the heart, which is loaded with mitochondria and has the body’s highest concentration of Co-Q10 because of the significant demands made upon it.

However, aging reduces access to Co-Q10. Although it can be obtained from the diet (mainly from fatty fish, organ meats, and whole grains) as well as synthesized in small amounts, both of these routes decline with age. The body’s declining capacity to extract and assimilate Co-Q10 in later years plays a role in the development of various cardiovascular conditions.

“Ubiquinol” is the reduced form of CoQ10 and the most highly absorbed. It is directly used in human metabolism as a lipid-soluble antioxidant. While standard CoQ10 (ubiquinone) supplements can be converted into ubiquinol in the body, this conversion can be less efficient in some individuals, based on age, genetics, blood sugar status or level of oxidative stress.

“Co-Q10 supplementation is especially essential for those who are taking cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins) since statins interfere with the biosynthesis of Co-Q10,” says Paz Eilat, MD, and internist based practicing in Torrance, CA. “Co-Q10 has an extremely low bioavailability in the body. It is important to obtain Co-Q10 products that are made with the biologically active ubiquinol form and/or products with a refined delivery system(s) to enhance bioavailability.”

Fish Oil: The mainstream media has been reporting on the benefits of fish oil for years. Studies have shown that the Omega-3s found in fish oil helps prevent and fight heart disease, as well as cancer, depression, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, ulcers, diabetes, hyperactivity and other diseases. Omega-3s can be found in flaxseed, walnuts and a few other foods. However, the most beneficial form of Omega-3, containing 2 fatty acids – EPA and DHA – can be found only in fish. Be aware to take fish oil products from companies that follow strict procedures to eliminate environmental contaminants to assure the highest purity of its fish oil supplements.

Heart HealthGreen Tea: Green tea contains polyphenols as bioflavoid and catechin compounds. Among those catechins, about half are EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate). EGCG have very strong antioxidant properties, which are about 200 times more potent than vitamin E. Studies indicate that green tea impacts cardiovascular health, including lowering total serum cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL, as well as increasing HDL.

Common Supplements Bad for the Heart?

Interestingly, two of the most common supplements consumed by people worldwide, calcium and Vitamin D, have come under fire as possibly bad for the heart. For years, people have been taking calcium supplements for bone and heart health. However, a recent study has found that calcium supplements can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

The study of nearly 24,000 people in Europe, ages 35 to 64, took place over an 11-year period. When the research team looked specifically at calcium supplements, they found an 86 percent increase in heart attacks among study participants who took them regularly compared with those who did not take supplements. An increase in strokes was also reported for those taking higher-dose supplements of calcium. Bear in mind, this is only one study and is not conclusive.

Now more than ever health-conscious people are paying attention to their vitamin D levels, especially those who live in climates where there is less sun exposure. These people are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases consistent with vitamin D deficiency.

Studies have confirmed the relationship between vitamin D deficiency and cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and peripheral artery disease. In addition, studies have linked low vitamin D levels to an increased risk of heart attack in men.

Vitamin D for Healthy HeartHowever, a very recent study is questioning whether D supplements actually have any “clinically meaningful changes in lipid concentrations,” which are your LDL, HDL and triglyceride numbers. Numerous clinical trials are currently under way to look more closely at Vitamin D supplements with results expected in a few years.

If you have high cholesterol or if you're at high risk for heart disease, certain supplements can help significantly improve your cardiovascular health. I highlighted a few above. There are many others. As is always the case, do your due diligence and research the various compounds that claim to promote heart health. Are they clinically validated? Are the products you’re considering sourcing from quality suppliers? There are a number of things to consider. Moreover, I urge you to consult a health professional who genuinely understands natural solutions to health. This person will be a great resource.

Finally, with the US health care system a mess, it is vitally important to take a proactive approach to your health. Remember that supplements are nutrients that enable the body to do wonderful things. I know this first hand. Conversely, it’s important to understand that pharmaceuticals are drugs that block a process and have numerous side effects which create other health challenges. Which path will you take?