Could supplements really boost your heart health? They might.
Research shows that some supplements -- in addition to lifestyle changes and medical treatment if you need it -- may help lower cholesterol, improve blood pressure, and reduce other risk factors for heart disease. It's unclear if supplements actually help prevent heart disease.
Did You Know?
Fiber and Sterols for Your Heart
Fiber. Found naturally in fruits, grains, vegetables, and legumes, fiber cuts down the amount of cholesterol your body soaks up from food. It’s best to get your fiber from foods, but fiber supplements are another option. Strive to get at least 25 to 30 grams of fiber daily. There's good evidence that blond psyllium husk -- common in fiber supplements -- can lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. It can also raise “good” HDL cholesterol.
Sterols and Stanols. These natural compounds are in foods like nuts and grains. They reduce the amount of cholesterol that your body absorbs from food. Sterols and stanols are sold as supplements. They're also added to many foods, such as some margarines, orange juice, and yogurts. Experts recommend 2 grams a day to help lower LDL cholesterol.
Other Supplements That May Offer Benefits
CoQ10. Your body naturally makes small amounts of CoQ10, also known as ubiquinone and ubiquinol. It's key for normal cell function. As a supplement, CoQ10 may help lower blood pressure, either on its own or along with drugs. Other studies have found that adding CoQ10 to heart failure drugs may improve symptoms and quality of life.
CoQ10 supplements are also popular as a treatment for statin side effects. Why? Statins can sometimes lower natural CoQ10 levels. Some doctors suggest adding a CoQ10 supplement to counteract the effect, hoping it will relieve statin side effects like muscle pain and weakness. However, study results have been mixed.
Fish Oil. Fish oil with omega-3 fatty acids can slash levels of triglycerides -- an unhealthy fat that can cause clots in the arteries -- by up to 50%. Fish oil may also improve blood pressure. But it’s not clear if over-the-counter fish oil supplements lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. Some research suggests they may. However, a 2012 study found that fish oil supplements didn't seem to help prevent heart-related deaths. Eating fish with omega-3 fatty acids is a better bet. The American Heart Association recommends that all adults eat at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish a week.
Garlic. Not only does garlic make just about anything taste delicious, it could also lower blood pressure. It may slow the build-up of plaque in the arteries, lowering your risk of clots. Research shows that both whole garlic and supplements may help.
Green Tea. Research shows that green tea -- either as an extract or as a drink -- may lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. Green tea may also lower your risk of developing high blood pressure, although not all studies show this benefit.
Safe Supplement Use
Don't blindly take every supplement that's labeled "heart healthy." Swallowing handfuls of supplements a day could be useless -- and dangerous.
Pay attention to what the supplement does, and make sure you really need it. Do you need to raise your good cholesterol or lower your bad cholesterol?
Ask your doctor which supplement is most likely to help. If you have a heart condition or other risk factors for heart attack, for your safety, you must follow your doctor's advice. Trying to treat a serious health condition on your own with over-the-counter supplements is way too risky.