How effective are supplements in improving heart health? Debra Chua, pharmacist from the Department of Pharmacy at National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS), examines the common choices for heart supplements.
* Before starting to take any supplements, always consult your doctor for specific recommendations or warnings.
"We have to know how to eat right, train right, and take the right over-the-counter supplements."
– Phil Heath, American IFBB professional bodybuilder and a seven-time Mr Olympia winner.
Be heart smart! Don’t lose heart!
7 Most common heart health supplements
The fibre we’re talking about here has nothing to do with your home broadband connection. Instead, it is the fibre in your diet that provides smoother motions for your number two.
But in addition to this, fibre also helps cut down the amount of
cholesterol your body soaks up from food.
For women, aim to get at least 20g of fibre in your diet daily, and for men, you need at least 26g. This equates to two servings of fruit and two servings of vegetables per day.
The best and simplest way to get your daily dose of fibre is from your food (click
here for a list of top foods high in fibre), but supplements are another option if you are unable to get enough.
2. Sterols and stanols
Plant sterols are substances that occur naturally in small amounts in many grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, which help to reduce the amount of cholesterol that your body absorbs from food.
As plant sterols closely resemble cholesterol on a molecular level, they may interfere with cholesterol absorption and lower cholesterol levels. To learn more about how plant sterols help to lower LDL 'bad' cholesterol, read
3. Coenzyme Q10 (Co Q10)
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant made by the body and serves an array of functions for our body ranging from cell growth and maintenance to protecting the body from harmful molecules.
Some studies suggest that a CoQ10 deficiency is linked to heart disease, but more research is needed. There is evidence to suggest CoQ10 can help relieve muscle weakness, tiredness, and cramps – side effects that people who take cholesterol-lowering medication, known as statins, may experience.
To learn about alternatives to statins and whether they are suitable for you, check out "Cholesterol Meds: Alternatives to Statins".
4. Fish oils (Omega-3 fatty acids)
Omega-3 fatty acids benefit the heart of healthy people and those at high risk of, or who have cardiovascular disease. Fatty fish like mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, tuna and salmon are high in two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
The link between omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular risk reduction is still being studied, but research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can:
Decrease risk of abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia), which can lead to sudden cardiac death
Decrease growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque (atherosclerosis), which can block blood vessels
Lower blood pressure slightly
Lower risk of
However, more studies are needed to confirm and further define the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acid supplements for preventing a first or subsequent cardiovascular event.
Omega-3 may interact with blood thinners, e.g. aspirin, warfarin to cause excessive bleeding. If you are taking any medications, discuss with your doctor or pharmacist before starting omega-3 health supplements.
Low levels of magnesium in the body have been linked to cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure (hypertension), arterial plaque build-up (atherosclerosis), calcification of soft tissues, cholesterol and hardening of the arteries.
Excellent food sources for magnesium include:
Dietary supplements for magnesium are also available, but
those who do not have normal kidney function should be careful in taking too much magnesium as it can be fatal at high levels (over 5,000mg daily).
Patients with kidney disease need to be cautious with magnesium and talk with their doctor or pharmacist before taking magnesium supplements.
Garlic may be effective in lowering blood pressure slightly and slow the build up of plaque in your arteries, lowering risk of blood clots. However, more in-depth and appropriate studies are required.
7. Red yeast rice
Red yeast rice contains a natural version of a statin (cholesterol-lowering properties). Such supplements may help to lower LDL 'bad' cholesterol and your triglycerides, but how safe they are, and side effects of the supplements are unknown.
If you have been diagnosed with high blood cholesterol (hyperlipidaemia) and prescribed medication for it, you
should not substitute the medication for red yeast rice.
Tips to remember when buying supplements for heart health
A well-balanced diet with plenty of plant-based foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds alongside fatty fish, can help look after your heart
Dietary supplements are expensive. You may get more of a benefit from spending the money on heart-healthy natural foods like oily fish or nuts and seeds.
Not all supplements are safe. They may cause side effects, allergic reactions, or interact with other medications. Always talk to your doctor, pharmacist or dietitian before taking it.
The way dietary supplements are made may not be standardised. Because of this, how well they work may differ.
Supplements that you buy off the shelf may not be the same as the type used in research, hence its effectiveness is limited.
Supplements are not meant to replace your prescribed drug treatment, a well-balanced diet and regular exercise regime are essential for your healthy heart.
Check out other articles on supplements:
5 Essential Vitamins Your Body Needs
Antioxidants: What You Need to Know
Is Overdosing on Vitamins Possible?
Children Supplements: Is It Necessary? How Safe Is It?