Grapefruit and Your Heart

With Valentine’s Day just past and February being Heart Awareness Month, love is still in the air and so this week we will continue to focus on how we can show our heart some love.

Having high cholesterol, especially the bad cholesterol known as Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, increases the chances of developing heart disease later in life.  The accumulation of cholesterol and plaque in the arteries lead to stiffening of the arteries, which affects the way the blood flows.

There are a variety of foods as well as many medications that can be prescribed to help lower the bad cholesterol.  Grapefruit is a food that can help lower cholesterol levels because of its high amounts of the soluble fiber, pectin.  When eaten, soluble fiber forms a gel in the intestines and attaches itself to the fatty cholesterol.  The body cannot digest fiber, so it is passed out as waste but not before it carries all of that unwanted bad cholesterol with it.  Hence, a diet high in fiber also helps the heart.

Despite all of its heart healthy benefits, grapefruit may have some adverse interactions with some cholesterol lowering medications.  In a very simplistic analogy, when the drug is taken, it is broken down, absorbed and taken to the site to complete its job.  However, grapefruit contains a compound that prevents the break down or metabolism of the drug causing it to accumulate to sometimes, dangerous levels.  In other words, it becomes more potent in the body.  This interaction usually happens between grapefruit and some of the cholesterol lowering drugs, statins.

Not all statins are affected by eating grapefruit, but it is important that you speak with your doctor or pharmacist to find out if your medication is affected by eating grapefruit and its products.  I am usually asked whether a particular food is good or bad and my answer usually is, “it depends.”  Of course there are some foods that you may not want to indulge in eating on a regular basis because of the negative health effects they promote, but to classify a food as good or bad is not always correct either.  In this case, it depends on the person eating the food, the health condition they may or may not have and the medications they are taking.

Grapefruit is a food that would normally be classified as “good” because of all the many health benefits it offers the body.  It its full of Vitamin C; it has a good amount of Vitamin A and the antioxidant lycopene which offers protection against prostate cancer.  However, if you were taking cholesterol-lowering medications that interact with grapefruit then grapefruit would be considered “bad” for you.  So, show your heart some love and speak to your doctor about your meds.