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Herbal Extracts and Lowered Heart Disease Risk


Artichoke Extract

Artichokes are nutritional powerhouses that provide a volume of nutrients full of illness fighting phytonutrients. They date back to 4th century B.C., when both ancient Romans and Greeks alike used the artichoke for digestive problems. Additionally, artichokes contain quercetin, rutin, gallic acid, and cynarin, nutrients that protect consumers against maladies such as heart disease, cancer, liver dysfunction, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Through clinical studies, artichokes have been proven to be a safe, non-toxic, and natural way to prevent and treat high cholesterol. They are high in polyphenol antioxidants such as luteolin, cynarin, and silymarin, all of which provide important benefits to the body. Cynarin and silymarin, for example, have been shown to be a boon to liver tissue and may even help it regenerate. Cynarin increases the breakdown of cholesterol in bile salts, thus increasing both bile production as well as the flow of bile from the gallbladder.

A German study, published in 2000, studied the effects of artichoke upon high cholesterol. During the course of the study, 143 adults took 1,800 mg of artichoke extract in 450 mg tablets for 6 weeks.  Learn MoreThe results of the study showed that artichoke extract lowered the total cholesterol in the participants by 18.5%. When compared to the rates of the placebo group, which showed only an 8.6% reduction, it’s clear that artichokes can be incredibly useful to individuals attempting to control their cholesterol. It should also be noted that the participants who took the artichoke extract also showed a reduction in LDL cholesterol by 22.9%, an impressive number when compared to the results of 7.2% in the placebo group.


Bergamot Extract

A bitter, fragrant Italian citrus fruit, bergamot extract has been shown to successfully reduce cholesterol levels in recent studies. In fact, the extract has worked well enough that some of the study participants were able to cut back on their statin medications.  Bergamot has been commonly used as a flavoring agent in Earl Grey tea for many years, however the extent of its benefits have only recently been coming to light. In addition to reducing cholesterol, bergamot extract is able to raise good cholesterol, remove fatty deposits in the liver, and lowers blood sugar. The extract contains powerful antioxidants called polyphenols –most notably bruteridine and melitidine – that are believed to be the agents responsible for these reductions.

In a recent study published by the International Journal of Cardiology, 77 patients took 1,000 milligrams per day of bergamot extract over the course of one month. The participants’ cholesterol dropped from an average of 278 milligrams per deciliter of blood to an amazing 191 per deciliter. Researchers also reported that adding bergamot to their diet allowed patients to cut their dose of the statin-containing medication Rosuvastatin in half without reducing its effectiveness.


Olive Leaf Extract

Olive leaf extract has been shown to reduce blood pressure as well as total cholesterol and bad cholesterol while protecting against oxidative damage. Scientists have also isolated the polyphenol known as Oleuropein – the source of the distinct and pungent flavor found in highly quality extra virgin olive oil – from the extract. Oleuropein acts as a natural calcium channel blocker and functions inside the vasculature to decrease tension in the walls of blood vessels, ultimately serving to lower blood pressure.

Olive leaf extract has been part of a number of studies, most particularly by researchers in Germany and Switzerland. The study in question looked at how certain individuals with borderline hypertension responded to taking olive leaf extract. Because genetic differences can make people respond differently to the same treatments, identical twins were used to help keep the data consistent. One group of participants took 500 milligrams a day. A second group took 1,000 milligrams a day. Participants in both groups were compared with their twin, who were administered a placebo. Researchers found that systolic blood pressure in the group that took 1,000 milligrams daily dropped by an average of 11 points. The group that took 500 milligrams daily also showed an average of a 5 point drop. Conversely, the individuals in the control group – those not taking the olive leaf extract but rather a placebo – saw their blood pressure edge up by an average of 2 points. The authors of this particular study also noticed a significant reduction in LDL cholesterol in those twins that took the olive leaf extract.

Another study was undertaken by researchers at the School of Biomedical Sciences in Australia. They wanted to see if polyphenol-enriched extract had an effect on cardiovascular, hepatic (liver), and metabolic signs of a high-cholesterol high-fat  (HCHF) diet. Also known as the Standard American Diet (SAD), the HCHF diet has led to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.  To explore the effects that polyphenol-enriched extract had upon the aforementioned heath issues, researchers decided to conduct their experimentation with several groups of rats. After 16 weeks, the rats fed with the HCHF diet developed metabolic syndrome, elevated abdominal and hepatic fat deposition, collagen deposition in the heart and liver, cardiac stiffness, and oxidative stress markers as well as abnormal plasma lipid profile, impaired glucose tolerance, and hypertension. The rats that were treated with olive leaf extracts had improved normalized cardiovascular and liver function and metabolic signs. The study suggested that olive leaf extract reverses cardiovascular stress and chronic, disease-causing inflammation. Researchers noted, however, that the olive leaf extract did not bring down the diet-induced high blood pressure.

Finally, olive leaf extract also combats the oxidation of LDL-cholesterol, which is one of the earliest events in developing atherosclerosis.


Pomegranate Extract

Pomegranates are one of the world’s most popular fruits. In North America, however, they are overshadowed by other fruits thought to be tastier or “healthier”. The pomegranate, however, is quite good for the body. The name literally translates to “seeded apple”, which calls to mind the old adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away!” In this instance, the catchy phrase could be quite literal. Pomegranates are loaded with antioxidant polyphenols including anthocyanin, which is responsible for giving pomegranate its reddish pigment.

One study published in the Journal of Atherosclerosis showed that pomegranate extract reduced very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol. The experiment, conducted with mice, also explored the effects of pomegranate upon various parts of the body. Researchers saw substantial reductions in levels of oxidative stress and inflammation in the vessel wall, as well as a reduction in atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries of mice treated over 8 weeks with the extract.

Another remarkable study, published in the journal of Clinical Nutrition, took 10 patients with atherosclerosis and measured their carotid arteries before and after one year of supplanting pomegranate juice with their diet. After a single year, blockages in their carotid arteries were reduced by up to 30%, while the control group’s blockages increased by 9%. Researchers also found potent protection from lipid peroxidation which was shown to continue for as long as three years.


Bilberry Extract

Bilberry comes from a shrub closely related to the blueberry, with red, drooping flowers and dark, edible berries. Bilberries are high in the polyphenol known as anthocyanin, the substance responsible for giving the bilberry its blue/black color.

Using a lab model of atherosclerosis, French researchers found that 16 weeks of bilberry extract significantly inhibited the development of plaques associated with atherosclerosis. Animals fed the extract had a 25% higher reduction in the atherosclerotic lesions as compared to the untreated group. Studies have also shown that the phytochemicals in the bilberry strengthen blood vessels, improve circulation, and prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, a major risk factor for atherosclerosis.