For many people, #AmericanHeartMonth is not just for February – it’s a twelve-month-a-year pursuit. And, because poor cardiovascular health can increase one’s risk of severe illness from COVID-19, many people are more focused on maintaining heart health than ever. It probably comes as no surprise that cardiovascular diseases account for nearly half of non-communicable diseases and are the leading cause of death around the world. This has caused some people to be more proactive about optimizing cardio health to help prevent disease. These folks are making decisions informed by a growing body of research indicating that plant-based diets reduce the risk of cardiovascular issues. This may be part of the reason that more and more Americans are going vegetarian or vegan.
Plant-rich diets are not only better for cardiovascular health, they are better for the environment. Yet, it can be difficult to get enough of the necessary protein-building and cardio-friendly amino acids from a plant-based diet. Supplementation can help – but some supplements may be made from the very ingredients that many consumers are looking to avoid.
A Bit About Amino Acids and Heart Health
One of the keys to cardiovascular health is the production of Nitrous Oxide (NO). This powerful neurotransmitter delivers messages to the heart, improves circulation and helps blood vessels relax. Enter amino acids: they not only help increase the body’s production of NO, there is evidence that certain amino acids may actually improve blood flow in the arteries of the heart and improve symptoms of clogged arteries, chest pain (angina) and coronary artery disease.
Here are some particulars:
- L-Arginine and L-Citrulline generate NO, which can help protect older and hypertensive patients from heart-related diseases including angina, congestive heart failure, hypertension and peripheral artery diseases. The best news as these supplements do not come with side effects. (Mayo Clinic)
- People with congestive heart failure have insufficient oxygenation of the heart, which can damage the heart muscle. Such damage may be reduced by taking L-carnitine supplements. L-carnitine is an amino acid that transports fats into the mitochondria (the place in the cell where fats are turned into energy), helping to ensure the right levels of energy production for normal heart function. Taking L-carnitine may also help reduce damage and complications following a heart attack.
A Bit More About Amino Acids and How They’re Made
Amino acids are organic compounds that combine to form proteins. The human body uses amino acids to make all proteins in the body. There are three groups of amino acids: essential, nonessential and conditional. While conditional amino acids are not “essential,” they are important in times of illness and stress – which is where Arginine comes in. The Nonessentials, like citrulline, are integral to some key functions, including the manufacture of NO which, as mentioned earlier, is essential to heart health.
Amino acids for the supplement market are either extracted from plants or animals or manufactured synthetically. Plant-based sources include sugarcane, beet, peas and corn. Animal sources can be made from meat and meat byproducts such as human hair, feathers, fish silage, blood, milk, and stomach contents.
While some of these ingredients may churn stomachs, sourcing practices give rise to a whole new set of concerns. For example, livestock that feeds on plants treated with chemical herbicides can result in traces of these toxins finding their way into supplements. It is for this reason that part of the AminoFacts “Decoding the Label” review focuses on lab testing for traces of harmful substances. In addition, we regularly contact some of the leading amino acid supplement brands to gather more information about their manufacturing processes. We are inquiring about plant and animal sourcing as well as their manufacturing processes. For example, “hydrolysis” and “fermentation’ are two common manufacturing methods: hydrolysis extracts amino acids from the inedible parts of slaughtered animals – including fish silage, hooves, hair, skin, feathers and teeth from cows, pigs and chickens. Many plant-based products use fermentation, a process that utilizes microorganisms to produce amino acids from plants, such as soy or corn.
Amino acids are Awesome!
AminoFacts is here to help you make informed choices about which are the awesome-est in terms of your lifestyle and clean label preferences. We go beyond what’s disclosed on the packaging or brand websites – which is particularly important because the supplement market and its labeling practices are more laxly regulated than food products.
We firmly believe that amino acid supplementation can be an effective way to contribute to the maintenance of overall health, including cardiovascular health. For those consumers who prefer more natural, plant-based lifestyles, learning to read the labels can help them make choices that are a good fit with their lifestyle.
Many consumers don’t have the time to conduct extensive research into supplement ingredients. Learn more about Decoding Labels or ask AminoFacts to evaluate a particular brand.