It seems that humankind has been in search of cures for heart diseases for as long as medical science existed.
The phenomenon was said to have first reared its ugly head in the 1920s and 1930s, when physicians across Britain and the United States were alerted that an uncommon disease was quickly becoming a leading cause of death.
This prophecy came true by the 1950s, and a decade after, a new generation of physicians was convinced that the disease had never been rare.
Gradually, it was accepted that cardiovascular diseases are a plague of humankind that can be possibly avoided only by virtue of eating rabbit food and adopting a treadmill-pounding lifestyle.
Despite enhanced awareness of heart diseases, the health threat remains a constant in the face of modern living.
Heart disease is now the number one killer for adults in the United States.
About 600,000 people die of heart diseases in the country every year, accounting for one in every four deaths. Of the statistics, coronary heart disease is the most common killer, with over 385,000 deaths annually.
Malaysians are equally predisposed to this health threat. Statistics from the Ministry of Health in 2009 estimated that one in four deaths in government hospitals was attributed to either heart attacks or strokes.
Many Malaysians are doing themselves no favours by perpetually eating too much and exercising too little, given that eating is something of a national past time here.
Current findings by the Ministry also revealed that two in every five adults are either overweight or obese, making Malaysians the fattest folks in South-East Asia.
Unfortunately, being overweight or obese increases one's risk of developing heart diseases, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Despite these factors, some 75 per cent of Malaysians never exercise at all, the Ministry added.
Given these scenarios, there is little doubt that incidences of heart-related diseases will be on the rise.
Red palm oil (RPO) may be the key in counteracting these risks, says American celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, better known as Dr Oz in a recent television broadcast.
RPO, extracted from the fruitlets of the oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis), can help fight belly fat build-up, ward off heart diseases, as well as combat signs of ageing, says Dr Oz.
The oil derives its attractive red hue from the high content of phytonutrients known as carotenoids (a precursor to Vitamin A) and tocotrienols (a derivative of Vitamin E) which are readily found in the oil palm fruitlets.
Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants well-known for their anti-ageing properties. In recent years, carotenoids have also been gaining a reputation for their protective effects on heart diseases. Their antioxidant properties don't only help stave off wrinkles; they also help protect the lining of the arteries and the fats in the blood from oxidative damage caused by free radicals; ensuring a functional overall biological system.
However, more notably is the RPO's abundance of tocotrienols, a vitamin E derivative that is fast becoming a superstar in the health and wellness domain.
The term vitamin E actually encompasses eight natural compounds: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols - each named alpha, beta, delta and gamma.
Most vitamin E supplements in the market contain only mixed tocopherols, or alpha, beta, delta and gamma tocopherols. However, with continuing research, tocotrienols are fast emerging as the superior siblings in the vitamin E family.
Recent research findings have suggested that these tocotrienols possess powerful neuro-protective, antioxidant, anti-cancer, as well as cholesterol-lowering properties, and therefore are beneficial for your heart.
According to Dr Sharon Ling, Vice-president (Scientific Affairs) of Carotech Bhd, recent clinical trials conducted by the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) have shown that palm tocotrienols help reduce arterial stiffness and blood pressure.
Arterial stiffness occurs as a consequence of age and atherosclerosis (stiffening of arteries). Age-related stiffness occurs when the elastic fibres within the arterial wall known as elastin begin to fray due to mechanical stress.
"As we age, degeneration of the arterial wall generally results in blood vessel wall stiffening," Dr Ling explains.
Increased arterial stiffness is a predictor of cardiovascular events, even in apparently healthy individuals. The two leading causes of death in the modern world - myocardial infarction (heart attack) and stroke, are direct consequences of atherosclerosis.
The studies showed that supplementation with self-emulsifying palm tocotrienols reduced arterial stiffness. Self-emulsifying palm tocotrienols also provide further cardiovascular benefits via its cholesterol-lowering and anti-platelet effects, Dr Ling says.
The findings concluded that tocotrienols may help prevent the onset of cardiovascular diseases, she adds.
Popular food sources of tocotrienols include palm oil, rice bran, coconut oil, cocoa butter, barley and wheat germ. Of these, palm oil is the richest source of tocotrienol. About 75 per cent of palm vitamin E consists of tocotrienols.
"Unlike tocopherols, it is very difficult to obtain enough tocotrienols needed for the above health benefits from diet alone. To do this, you need at least two to three cups of palm oil a day. Therefore, supplementation is the only practical way to obtain enough tocotrienols," she says.
Whilst palm oil is widely used as a cooking oil in Malaysia, Dr Ling commented that because cooking oil is often processed, the essential phytonutrients that are found in palm oil would have been stripped off.
"Tocotrienols can benefit everyone, from children to the elderly. This is why we need to educate Malaysians about the specific palm phytonutrients that are vital for health, so that they know where to look for it," she concludes.