Supplements can help your bones, your muscles, and many other parts of your body. What about your heart? Research shows that some of them may help lower cholesterol, improve blood pressure, and other things that put you at risk for heart disease. It's unclear, though, if they help prevent heart attacks, strokes, and other problems.
These nutrients can be a good addition to your heart-healthy lifestyle.
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. Try to get at least 25 to 30 grams of it every day. Men less than age 51 should aim for 38 grams a day. It’s best to get your daily dose from your diet, but supplements are another option. There's good evidence that blond psyllium husk -- common in fiber supplements -- can lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. It can also raise the “good” kind, HDL. Other fiber supplements include methylcellulose, wheat dextrin, and calcium polycarbophil. If you take a fiber supplement, increase the amount you take slowly. This can help prevent gas and cramping. It’s also important to drink enough liquids when you increase your fiber intake.
Sterols and stanols. Find these in foods like nuts and grains, or you can buy them as supplements. They reduce the amount of cholesterol that your body absorbs from food. 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 for people who have high cholesterol.
Other Supplements That May Offer Benefits
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Your body naturally makes small amounts of this enzyme, also known as ubiquinone and ubiquinol. As a supplement, CoQ10 may help lower blood pressure, either on its own or along with medications.
CoQ10 pills are also popular as a treatment for the side effects of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins. Why? These meds can sometimes lower the amount of CoQ10 the body makes on its own. Some doctors suggest adding a CoQ10 supplement to make up for the loss, hoping it will relieve problems like muscle pain and weakness. But overall scientific evidence does not support the use of CoQ10 for muscle pain caused by statins.
Fish oil. Full of omega-3 fatty acids, it can slash levels of triglycerides -- an unhealthy fat in your blood -- by up to 30%. It may also improve blood pressure. But evidence does not show that omega-3 fatty acids lower your risk of heart disease. Your best bet may be to eat fish with omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends that all adults eat at least two 3-ounce servings of fish a week.
Garlic. Not only does it make just about anything taste delicious, it could also slightly lower blood pressure. It may slow the buildup of plaque in your arteries, lowering your risk of blood clots. Research shows that both garlic in food and in supplements may help.
Green tea. Some research shows that both the extract and the drink may lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and raise HDL levels.
Folic acid . Folic acid, a B vitamin, lowers levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which has been linked to heart disease. But studies have not proved that folic acid reduces the rate of repeat heart attacks and stroke.
Red yeast rice.Red yeast rice may lower total cholesterol, triglycerides, and “bad” LDL cholesterol, according to several studies. One ingredient in red yeast rice -- monacolin K -- is identical to the active ingredient in a cholesterol drug. Talk with your doctor before taking red yeast rice.
Safe Supplement Use
Don't take a supplement just because it’s labeled "heart healthy." Not all of them are guaranteed to help you, and it can be dangerous to get too much of some of them.
Find out the safe upper limits for the vitamins you take, as well as the recommended daily allowance, by talking with your doctor.
Pay attention to what the supplement does, and make sure you really need it. Ask your doctor which product is most likely to help. If you have a heart condition or at a high risk for a heart attack, you must follow your doctor's advice. It’s way too risky to try to treat a serious health condition on your own with over-the-counter supplements.
Some Words of Caution
Some supplements can interact with your medications and even have side effects. Always let your doctor know which supplements you’re taking. And never rely on supplements to make up for poor dietary choices.
Vitamin and Supplement Glossary: Common Definitions
This glossary provides simple definitions for common terms such as “antioxidants,” “fat soluble,” and “phytochemicals.” Find out what the lingo really means.