COVID-19 may have become the third-leading cause of all deaths in 2020, but heart disease is still the number-one cause of death in the United States, a December 2021 CDC report shows.1 Adults over age 65 are significantly more likely to experience cardiovascular health problems than younger Americans.2
The heart supplements market continued to grow throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as aging consumers remained acutely aware of the importance of maintaining their cardiovascular health—some even more so as staying healthy became their biggest concern. Emerging research on the link between diet, supplementation, and heart health has also created new opportunities for heart health brands. Ahead are some of the latest headlines on cardiovascular health supplements for seniors.
Heart Health Is Still Top of Mind
The heart health ingredients market saw rapid growth in recent years, with Research and Markets forecasting 5.9% compound annual growth over the next five years. The market researcher predicts this category to reach a global market size of $24.8 billion in 2027.3 Heart health remained a priority for seniors even throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, notes Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, RH (AHG), vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for NutraScience Labs (Farmingdale, NY) and a professor of nutraceutical science at Huntington University of Health Sciences (Knoxville, TN).
“The CDC has indicated that older adults are more likely than young people to become severely ill from COVID-19,” Bruno says. “But older adults are also much more likely to suffer a heart attack or develop heart disease, and the CDC has indicated that having heart conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, and cardiomyopathies can make people more likely to become severely ill from COVID-19.”
Given this connection between heart health and COVID-19 outcomes, Bruno points out that the pandemic has given companies a new opportunity to impress upon consumers the importance of maintaining heart health as they age.
Vitamin K2 Reduces Arterial Calcification
Vitamin K2 research continues to demonstrate the ingredient’s heart health applications. Vitamin K–dependent proteins have been shown to inhibit vascular calcification, which is thought to promote cardiovascular health, Bruno says.
One prospective cohort study of 4,473 subjects involved in the population-based Rotterdam Study assessed the subjects’ dietary vitamin K intake and their risk factors for poor cardiovascular health over the course of 10 to 13 years. The subjects had no history of heart attack at baseline. Subjects were monitored for dietary vitamin K intake and were assigned a relative risk for death from coronary heart disease, with adjustments made for BMI, diet, diabetes, gender, and age. The subjects were also assessed for aortic calcification via X-rays. Researchers found that vitamin K2 intake was associated with a significantly reduced relative risk of severe aortic calcification.4
“More significantly,” Bruno says, “a three-year trial5 saw 244 postmenopausal women receive 180 mcg/day of vitamin K2 or a placebo. Supplementation with vitamin K2 significantly decreased measures of aortic stiffness.”
The study in question, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial sponsored by vitamin K2 ingredient supplier NattoPharma (Oslo, Norway), examined the effects of NattoPharma’s branded MenaQ7 ingredient on total cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations, IL-6 and TNF-alpha concentrations, and markers of endothelial dysfunction. Local and regional arterial stiffness were measured via echotracking and pulse wave velocity as detected through mechanotransducers.
After three years, vitamin K2 consumption resulted in lower Stiffness Index scores, as well as lower circulating levels of dephosphorylated-uncarboxylated Matrix Gla-protein. The study authors concluded that vitamin K2 supplementation reduces arterial stiffness and improves carotid artery elasticity.
Gut Microbiome Influences Heart Health
Researchers have known for some time that gut health influences a variety of bodily systems. But now, a landmark study illuminates how the gut microbiome plays a role in metabolizing flavonoids to boost their beneficial effects on heart health.
This 2021 cohort study, using subjects from the PopGen project, followed 904 German adults between the ages of 25 and 82. Subjects completed the 112-question Food Frequency Questionnaire once per year; the study authors assigned each food a flavonoid value using data from the United States Department of Agriculture. The subjects also gave blood and stool samples, and had their height, weight, and blood pressure measured, at the PopGen project’s first follow-up examination. Subjects self-reported their level of weekly physical activity over the past year. Microbial diversity and flavonoid concentrations were determined through DNA sequencing, the Shannon index, and the Bray-Curtis dissimilarity measure. An ANCOVA analysis examined the relationships between flavonoid intake, microbial diversity, and blood pressure.
The analysis revealed that higher flavonoid intake was associated with lower systolic blood pressure (SBP) and lower pulse pressure. Food-based analysis found this effect was strongest with apples and pears, while berries were also associated with lower SBP and pulse pressure. Apple, pear, and berry intake was also associated with reduced concentrations of Parabacteroides, a gut microbe that was found to be associated with significantly higher systolic blood pressure. The study authors concluded that the microbiome explains up to 15% of the correlation between higher flavonoid intake and lower blood pressure.6
Aedin Cassidy, PhD, a professor at the Queen’s University Belfast School of Biological Sciences (Belfast, Northern Ireland) and a member of the management board at the university’s Institute for Global Food Security, coauthored the study. Cassidy says this study is one of the first to investigate the relationship between flavonoids, the gut microbiome, and heart health.
“Exactly how flavonoids cause these benefits for heart health is not fully known, but we know from lab and animal experiments that these compounds can improve blood pressure and act as anti-inflammatories,” Cassidy explains. “They can also help modulate levels of nitric oxide in the body, which can help blood vessels relax and improve blood flow.”
Cassidy explains that flavonoids act like low-dose aspirin, reducing the likelihood of platelets clotting. The link between the gut microbiome and heart health, and the role flavonoids play in that mix, is an important direction for future research, she says. Future studies, Cassidy adds, should focus on inter-individual variability in the gut microbiome and how individual differences in gut health influence cardiovascular health.
Supplements Matter for Seniors’ Heart Health
Cardiovascular health is an important focus area for seniors as the risks of poor heart health grow with age. While there is a clearly established link between nutrition and heart health, seniors in particular may fail to meet their dietary needs through diet alone, as older adults are more likely to struggle with low appetite.7 This demographic may benefit from tailored heart health products that can help them meet their nutritional needs without relying on diet alone. While ingredients like flavonoids and vitamin K2 are showing promise in studies, further research should continue to investigate heart health ingredients that meet the unique needs of seniors.
- National Center for Health Statistics data brief. “Mortality in the United States, 2020.” vol. 427 (December 2021)
- National Institutes of Health – National Institute on Aging web page. “Heart Health and Aging.” Updated June 1, 2018.
- Research and Markets report. “Heart Healthy Ingredients – Global Market Trajectory & Analytics.” Published April 2021.
- Geleijnse JM et al. “Dietary intake of menaquinone is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease: The Rotterdam Study.” The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 134, no. 11 (November 2004): 3100-3105
- Knapen MH et al. “Menaquinone-7 supplementation improves arterial stiffness in healthy postmenopausal women.” Thrombosis and Haemostasis, vol. 113, no. 5 (May 2015): 1135-1144
- Jennings A et al. “Microbial diversity and abundance of Parabacteroides mediate the associations between higher intake of flavonoid-rich foods and lower blood pressure.” Hypertension, vol. 78, no. 4 (October 2021): 1016-1026
- Pilgrim A et al. “An overview of appetite decline in older people.” Nursing Older People, vol. 27, no. 5 (June 2015): 29-35