Key Nutrients Support Circulatory Health
Supplementing with a mixture of fatty acids, vitamin B6, folic acid, and vitamin E may improve symptoms of intermittent claudication and help reduce risk factors for the development of a circulatory disorder that commonly affects the arteries of the legs (peripheral arterial disease, or PAD), reports a study in the Journal of Nutrition (2005;135:1393–9).
PAD is caused by atherosclerosis, a condition that makes the walls of the arteries thicker and less elastic and partially blocks the flow of blood. When blood flow to the legs is compromised by PAD, intermittent claudication can result, a condition characterized by pain in the legs or buttocks brought on by walking and relieved by rest.
Risk factors for PAD development include advancing age (over 50 years old), smoking, diabetes, elevated levels of blood fats, high blood pressure, obesity, and elevated levels of homocysteine (a breakdown product of an amino acid) in the blood. If it becomes advanced, PAD can lead to serious infections of the legs or feet. Having PAD also increases the chance of dying from a heart attack or stroke.
PAD treatment involves lifestyle modifications such as quitting smoking, lowering saturated fat intake, and engaging in regular physical exercise. Medications to help prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels, and manage diabetes may also be necessary.
A number of different nutrients may benefit people with atherosclerosis. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from fish oil help dilate blood vessels and inhibit clotting, potentially increasing blood flow through the arteries. Oleic acid found in olive oil can help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Folic acid and vitamin B6 help decrease homocysteine levels in the body. Green leafy vegetables such as kale, Swiss chard, and collard greens are rich sources of folic acid. Vitamin B6 can be found in potatoes, poultry, oats, bananas, and avocados. Vitamin E has been shown in several studies to decrease intermittent claudication symptoms. The most concentrated food source of vitamin E is wheat germ oil. Almonds, milk, and sunflower oil are also good sources.
The new study investigated the effect of a combination nutritional supplement on intermittent claudication symptoms and PAD risk factors in 60 men with both conditions. For one year, the participants received daily either a fortified dairy beverage containing EPA (0.2 grams), DHA (0.13 grams), oleic acid (5.12 grams), folic acid (150 mcg), vitamin B6 (1.5 mg), and vitamin E (5 IU), or an unfortified dairy beverage (control group). The participants were counseled to eat more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fiber-rich foods, stop smoking, exercise daily, and avoid precooked and fast-food meals.
Blood samples were taken at the beginning of the study and again in three-month intervals to measure levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol), LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol), homocysteine, and apolipoprotein B (ApoB). Higher levels of ApoB are associated with an increased cardiovascular disease risk; levels of ApoB may be a more useful indicator of cardiovascular disease risk than LDL-cholesterol levels. The pain-free walking distance, a measure of the severity of intermittent claudication, was measured using a treadmill at the same intervals.
Pain-free walking distance increased by 250% among participants in the fortified beverage group after 12 months; this improvement was significantly greater than that seen in the control group. Total cholesterol levels decreased significantly in the fortified beverage group compared with baseline levels; this effect was more pronounced in individuals with higher initial cholesterol levels. ApoB levels in the fortified beverage group decreased significantly after 12 months compared with baseline measurements. Among participants with elevated initial levels of homocysteine, the fortified beverage resulted in significant reductions compared with baseline. LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels were unchanged in both groups.
These results suggest that relatively low doses of a combination of several nutrients may be effective for alleviating discomfort caused by intermittent claudication and can potentially halt the progression of PAD by decreasing risk factors for its development.
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She is a co-founder and practicing physician at South County Naturopaths, Inc., in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp teaches holistic medicine classes and provides consultations focusing on detoxification and whole-foods nutrition.
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