Can a HeartBar (or Two) a Day Keep Heart Disease at Bay?

The Buzz: “Recommended by doctors for the health of your heart,” say ads for HeartBar, launched by Cooke Pharma, Inc. this summer. The company touts HeartBar as “the first medical food for the dietary management of vascular disease.” Can eating a bar or two a day really improve circulation, increase stamina and relieve angina for those with heart disease, as the company claims?

The Basics: HeartBar is available over-the-counter, but is sold only in pharmacies. Its main ingredient is L-arginine, an amino acid that boosts the body’s production of nitric oxide, a substance that dilates arteries so blood can flow more freely. (The 1998 Nobel Prize for Medicine went to researchers who identified this link.) Nitric oxide may also help prevent plaque from forming on vessel walls. Most people get less than five grams of L-arginine a day from food. The soy-based HeartBar provides an additional three grams per bar, along with vitamins C, E, B6, B12, folic acid and niacin. HeartBar is available over-the-counter, but is sold only in pharmacies. Its main ingredient is L-arginine, an amino acid that boosts the body’s production of nitric oxide, a substance that dilates arteries so blood can flow more freely. (The 1998 Nobel Prize for Medicine went to researchers who identified this link.) Nitric oxide may also help prevent plaque from forming on vessel walls. Most people get less than five grams of L-arginine a day from food. The soy-based HeartBar provides an additional three grams per bar, along with vitamins C, E, B6, B12, folic acid and niacin.

The Bonus: Extensive research attests to L-arginine’s ability to increase nitric oxide in people with cardiovascular disease, who tend to have low levels. In preliminary studies, eating two HeartBars daily improved blood flow in people with high cholesterol (after one week) and increased pain-free walking distance in those with peripheral artery disease (after two weeks). Research also supports the other nutrients in the bar as helpful in preventing heart disease. Extensive research attests to L-arginine’s ability to increase nitric oxide in people with cardiovascular disease, who tend to have low levels. In preliminary studies, eating two HeartBars daily improved blood flow in people with high cholesterol (after one week) and increased pain-free walking distance in those with peripheral artery disease (after two weeks). Research also supports the other nutrients in the bar as helpful in preventing heart disease.

The Bust: The Bust: In a word, “yuck.” After tasting HeartBar, we wonder how long the recommended two-bar-a-day regimen can be maintained, even for those motivated to comply. (Perhaps an upcoming peanut butter flavor will be more palatable.) In addition, two bars add almost 400 calories a day. Of more concern are possible side effects and drug interactions. Company founder John P. Cooke, M.D., Ph.D., told EN that L-arginine might increase blood flow to tumors and might worsen inflammatory conditions like arthritis. An expert we spoke with questions possible interaction with nitroglycerin.

The Bottom Line: The Bottom Line: HeartBar seems promising. The American Heart Association is intrigued enough to be studying the data. If you can tolerate the taste and the price (nearly $2 a bar), it may be worth trying as an adjunct to medical treatment, but consult your doctor first. You could take L-arginine capsules instead. Better yet, and safer at this point until more is known, try increasing your intake of L-arginine-rich foods like soy, fish, pine nuts and peanuts. The other nutrients in HeartBar are easily available in supplements.

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