Nov. 7, 2022 – Six supplements commonly marketed for heart health had no effect on LDL (low-density lipoprotein, or “bad”) cholesterol in a newly published, placebo-controlled study.
The supplements evaluated were fish oil, garlic, cinnamon, turmeric, plant sterols and red yeast rice.
The study tested a common misconception that supplements have benefits over prescription medications such as statins. Participants who took a low-dose statin instead of supplements during the study reduced their total cholesterol by 24% and reduced their blood triglycerides by 19%, according to an American Heart Association summary.
“If you’re taking over-the-counter supplements for heart health or for cholesterol lowering, you should reconsider,” said study author Luke Laffin, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic in a news release. “Unfortunately, many U.S. consumers believe cholesterol health supplements are safer than prescription medications and believe supplements are as effective, or more effective, than statins.”
The research was published Sunday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and simultaneously presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2022 in Chicago.
The study included 190 adults between the ages of 40 and 75 who had an elevated risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, which is the buildup of cholesterol plaque in arteries. Participants were randomly assigned to take one of the following for 28 days: a placebo or sham pill, 5 mg of the low-dose statin medication rosuvastatin, or one of the supplements.
Participants who took the placebo or any of the supplements saw no change in LDL cholesterol. Participants who took the statin saw a 38% reduction in LDL cholesterol.
LDL is one of two types of cholesterol, and high levels of it are associated with higher risks of heart disease and stroke because it can narrow and stiffen arteries, according to the American Heart Association. In 2020, more than 4.5 million deaths worldwide were attributed to high LDL cholesterol.
The other type of cholesterol, called high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, is called the “good” cholesterol because it protects the heart. In the study, the plant sterols supplement notably lowered HDL cholesterol.
The study also showed that the garlic dietary supplement notably increased LDL cholesterol compared to placebo.
“Although there are prior studies demonstrating that red yeast rice and plant sterol supplements may reduce LDL cholesterol, the findings of our study underscore that the contents of these dietary supplements may vary. Therefore, they do not produce consistent reductions in cholesterol,” Laffin said. “This study sends an important public health message that dietary supplements commonly taken for ‘cholesterol health’ or ‘heart health’ are unlikely to offer meaningful impact on cholesterol levels.”
The authors noted that a limitation of the study was the 28-day treatment period, noting that further study may be needed to determine whether the supplements could impact LDL cholesterol over a longer period.
The study was funded by AstraZeneca.