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Dietary Supplements for Heart Health

Hand holding a variety of vitamins and supplements

It is well documented that eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains is beneficial for heart health. These choices are optimal because they are high in fiber and nutrients and low in saturated and trans fats. In addition to a healthy diet, research indicates promising results from a few supplements, particularly for individuals who are at risk for or have cardiovascular disease, including those with high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been researched for various reasons including heart health and inflammation. The two most common dietary forms of omega-3 are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Both DHA and EPA have been shown to reduce the risk of an adverse event in those with coronary artery disease. The American Heart Association in 2010 urged federal governing bodies to make specific daily Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs – minimal amounts) for EPA and DHA (consuming 250 to 500 mg/day), however to date there are still no formal DRIs for EPA and DHA.

Additional research indicates those with high cholesterol levels who consume 1,800 mg of EPA per day have a reduced risk of a cardiac event. Also, those with high triglycerides have improved levels by consuming 1,200-4,000 mg of DHA daily(4,5,6,7). These values are much higher than the proposed DRI, which most Americans are not even consuming. For Americans to obtain a protective benefit for their heart, it is imperative we change our diets to include fatty fish at least two times per week, such as 3-4 oz. salmon, herring, mackerel and albacore tuna(19). If Americans cannot meet the proposed DRIs with their food consumption, it may be beneficial to consider an omega-3 supplement. Omega-3 supplements are well tolerated and largely free from serious adverse effects, liver toxicity and drug-drug interactions. However, always speak to your physician before taking any new supplements. Omega-3 supplements are not recommended for those taking blood thinners, such as Coumadin.

When choosing an omega-3 supplement check to be sure the supplement contains 1-4g of omega-3's. Also, check the label to make sure it provides 250-500 mg each of EPA and DHA(20, 21). In addition, the bioavailability of supplements varies depending on the form of omega-3's. Be sure to look for a supplement that is listed as a triglyceride, the most bioavailable form. Lastly, be sure your supplement is third-party tested for a high quality product.

Co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is another highly researched supplement considered for heart health. This stems from doctors observing that many patients with heart failure had low CoQ10 levels(9,10). Recently, a large multiyear clinical trial found that CoQ10 was safe for long-term use, reduced symptoms and major cardiac events(18). Additional research also indicates that CoQ10 taken alone or in addition to other anti-hypertensives may significantly lower blood pressure. Most of the research provided patients with 100-300 mg/day(15-17).

Additional Considerations:

The following supplements are touted to aid in heart health, however there is insufficient evidence to make any specific recommendations. Additional research is needed to determine how effective the following supplements are at promoting heart health.

Preliminary research on flax seed has shown a reduction in total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in healthy individuals and those with high cholesterol or peripheral artery disease(22-27). These studies included flax seeds in many varieties, including raw, ground and even flaxseed in bread and muffins.

Tumeric also has been shown to reduce total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol and triglycerides in patients with elevated levels(29). Further research is needed to determine how frequently and how much would need to be consumed to see benefits.

Lastly, green tea or green tea extract appears to lower cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and triglycerides(28,30,31). Clinical research noted a decrease can be seen in patients with hyperlipidemia within 24 weeks if taken daily(32). As mentioned earlier, further research is needed for all of these additional considerations, however current research is showing promising results. Note there have been a few case studies of individuals taking weight loss supplements containing high amounts of green tea extract who had liver damage.

For more information on supplements visit: Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS).

About the authors: Patricia Deuster is professor and director, at the Consortium for Health and Military Performance (CHAMP), a Defense Department Center of Excellence; Melissa Rittenhouse is a nutritionist and exercise scientist with CHAMP (HJF contract employee); Andrea Lindsey is a senior nutrition scientist with CHAMP (HJF contract employee) and director of Operation Supplement Safety.


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