Are Dietary Supplements Good for Your Heart?
Natural supplements may not do as much good as you think.
Many dietary supplements are marketed as a natural way to support some aspect of your health. Some people take these supplements instead of medications suggested by doctors, while others may rely on them in hopes of avoiding medication or as an additional health-booster in addition to medication. But do you know if they work?
Recent research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology set out to look at whether natural supplements could improve heart health by lowering bad cholesterol (LDL). The study looked at the effectiveness of six dietary supplements compared to taking a low-dose statin (a cholesterol-lowering drug). The supplements included in the study were:
- Fish oil
- Plant sterols
- Red yeast rice
During the study, participants with no prior history of cardiovascular disease were either given supplements, a statin medication or a placebo for 28 days. The results showed that the statin reduced average LDL cholesterol by nearly 40 percent, total cholesterol by 24 percent and triglycerides by 19 percent. Those who took the supplements or the placebo saw no significant decrease in any of these numbers.
Although this study appears to show that the supplements didn't have any effect on lowering cholesterol, it's important to keep in mind that there were not many participants and the study may not have lasted long enough for the supplements to have any notable impact on cholesterol. However, since dietary supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there's no way of knowing if any supplement you buy actually provides the positive results you think it does. Very often, no clinical studies have been done to prove any particular supplement's effectiveness.
Many people like the idea of improving their health naturally when possible instead of taking prescription medications, which can cause unwanted side effects. But adopting healthier lifestyle habits, such as following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and limiting alcohol, may be the key to improving heart health naturally rather than relying on supplements.
If you decide to take dietary supplements, it's worth noting that they may not take the place of prescription medications or lifestyle changes when it comes to improving your health. Most supplements will not harm you, but be sure to tell your doctor about any you are taking since some supplements may interact with medications.
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Date Last Reviewed: December 13, 2022
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Jane Schwartz, RDN, CLT