Optimizing Heart Health

Optimizing Heart Health

As we embrace Heart Health Month this February, let's delve into the intricate world of the cardiovascular system and tips for maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle.*

The cardiovascular system is all about getting oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout the body. The heart is the muscle that powers the system but it’s much more than just a pump; the heart is also a self-organized nervous system with its own neurons, hormones, and neurotransmitters with 2-way communication between it, the brain, and the rest of the body to modulate blood flow.

The blood vessels of the cardiovascular system are made of connective tissue, muscle and elastic fibres. Blood vessels and the heart have a thin lining called the endothelium, which regulates blood clotting, immune response, fluid volume, and blood vessel tone.

When it comes to blood pressure, a healthy range is less than 120/80 systolic/diastolic. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can lead to damage of the heart, brain, kidneys, and blood vessels over time.

A variety of factors, including genetics, age, obesity, high alcohol consumption, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes/metabolic syndrome and high sodium intake can cause primary/essential hypertension.

Secondary hypertension can be due to kidney disease, heart defects, thyroid problems, alcohol/drugs, cancer, sleep apnea, and pregnancy.

Pathology, or things going wrong, in the cardiovascular system is generally from slowdowns or blockages. Heart disease (AKA ischemic heart disease or coronary artery disease) refers to the buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries that could lead to a heart attack, heart failure, or death. It also plays a role in stroke and angina. Most heart disease deaths are preventable (or at least delayable) through a healthy lifestyle.

Good heart health depends on several healthy habits. Research shows that adhering to 4 simple behaviours can prevent 80% of heart disease:

  1. not smoking
  2. exercising 3.5 hours a week
  3. eating a healthy diet
  4. maintaining a healthy weight

We can improve our heart health by focusing on:

  • What and how you breathe
  • Using your heart and other muscles to stay active
  • Getting fats and sugars right
  • Managing stress and mental wellness

Herbal medicine can also make a great contribution to our overall heart health. Hawthorn and red beet juice are two that are especially good at supporting the health of our cardiovascular system.


Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) has been traditionally associated with supporting heart health and may contribute to overall cardiovascular well-being. Some sources refer to it as having “cardiotonic” properties. The flowers, leaves and berries are all used medicinally and have a fantastic history of safety and effectiveness for heart health. Hawthorn can also strengthen and protect blood vessels from oxidative damage and plaque buildup.

Supporting healthy blood flow may have potential benefits for overall well-being, providing essential nutrients to tissues and organs and contributing to improved energy levels. Relaxing blood vessels for better circulation and reducing the heart‘s oxygen demands translates well into benefits for aerobic/cardio exercise. Hawthorn has also been shown to support the body’s nitric oxide production. Flora’s Cardio·Essence™ incorporates hawthorn, passionflower, and hibiscus, traditionally recognized for their potential to contribute to cardiovascular health.

Red Beets and Nitric Oxide

Red beets are a great source of dietary nitrates. Nitrates are broken down into nitrites by bacteria in saliva and stomach acid, which then turn into nitric oxide in the body. This process can take 2-3 hours and is supported by iron, vitamin C, and polyphenols like grape seed extract.

Nitric oxide helps in exercise and workouts by causing vasodilation: blood vessels relax, blood pressure normalizes, and tissue perfusion of oxygen and nutrients improves. Nitric oxide also plays a role in mitochondrial biogenesis (the process by which cells increase their individual mitochondrial mass and number to increase the production of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, as a response to greater energy expenditure).

Nitric oxide lasts in the body for just a very short burst – it has a half-life of only a few seconds. When activated, it can go down three pathways: causing the vasodilation mentioned above (great for heart health, exercise, and general cardiovascular and respiratory health), going into short-term storage, or metabolized as a waste product (antioxidants can help prevent this last one from happening).

Studies suggest that red beet juice may have potential benefits for exercise tolerance and muscle performance, as well as oxygenation during physical activity. Nitrates are thought to be a major reason for these benefits, but red beets are also a great source of antioxidants too. Flora Red Beet Crystals contain approximately 67 mg of nitrates and 70 mg of betanin (the antioxidant that gives beets their red pigment) per 10 g serving.

Incorporating herbs like hawthorn and supplements like red beet juice into our diet can support the healthy functioning of our heart and blood vessels as well as our respiratory system, giving us that boost of momentum we need to keep up with physical activity and exercise.


* These statements are purely educational in nature and are not intended as specific medical advice. If you have a serious health condition for which you seek advice, please check with your primary health care provider.