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Supplements for Lowering Cholesterol and for Heart Health
Question: Which supplements can help lower cholesterol and keep my heart healthy? Are there any to avoid?
Answer: Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both women and men in the U.S. Some supplements may help keep your heart healthy, but others may potentially contribute to heart disease.
Heart Healthy Supplements:
There is strong evidence that sterol esters (like the phytosterol beta-sitosterol) and stanol esters, available in supplements and in some "heart healthy" margarines and spreads, can significantly lower LDL cholesterol. (There is also some evidence that taking curcumin may increase the cholesterol-lowering effects of phytosterols.) You can get more information about this, plus our tests and reviews of products in the Cholesterol-Lowering Supplements Review >>
Garlic has been shown to reduce total cholesterol and triglycerides, and may slow the development of atherosclerosis. One brand of garlic in particular has been shown to lower triglycerides more than others. You can get more information about these, including our tests and reviews of products in the Garlic Supplements Review >>
Replacing some saturated fat in the diet with olive oil may help lower risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. You can get more information about extra virgin olive oil and see our Top Picks among products in the Extra Virgin Olive Oil Review >>
Oats and oat-based cerealscan be a good source of soluble fiber, which can help to lower cholesterol reduce the risk of heart disease. See our Oat Cereals Review for the clinical evidence, including how much you need to consume in order to significantly reduce cholesterol.
Soy protein, in adequate dosage, has been shown to modestly lower total cholesterol and improve LDL/HDL ratio. Preliminary research suggests lunasin, a specific protein peptide isolated from soy, may play a major role in soy's effects. Our Review of Cholesterol-Lowering Supplements includes information about these and other supplements for reducing cholesterol — also see the Soy article.
Some, but not all studies suggest that pantethine (which is not a B vitamin but is often included as an ingredient in B vitamin supplements) may help to lower LDL cholesterol.
CoQ10 has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of adverse cardiovascular events by 50% in people with moderate to severe heart failure, and may be helpful in reducing some of the side-effects of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. You can get more information about CoQ10 (and ubiquinol, a related compound), including our tests and reviews of products, in the CoQ10 and Ubiquinol Supplements Review >>
Vitamin D may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in those with low blood levels of vitamin D but not be of benefit for people who do not have a vitamin D deficiency. You can get more information about vitamin D, including our tests and reviews of products in the Vitamin D Supplements Review >>
Certain probiotics may modestly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and "bad" LDL cholesterol — although they do not appear to increase "good" HDL cholesterol. There is mixed evidence as to whether probiotics reduce triglyceride levels. More information, plus our tests of popular products, is found in the Probiotic Supplements and Kefirs Review >>
Supplements That May Be Harmful: Vitamin E supplements, once touted for heart health, have not been found to provide a benefit for people with cardiovascular disease, and could actually be harmful for some heart disease patients, since they could reduce the effectiveness of cholesterol-lowering agents.
There is reason to believe that L-carnitine and lecithin could actually contribute to atherosclerosis in certain people, and it may be wise to avoid long-term supplementation with either one.
Supplements That May Not Help: Calcium -- Although getting sufficient calcium may decrease your risk of dying fromcardiovascular disease, too much may be harmful. A study found that calcium (800 mg) given once daily to post-menopausal women with high cholesterol caused a significant increase in serum cholesterol (up by about 50 mg/dL) and an increase in the thickness of lining of the carotid artery - changes associated with heart disease. Only if you don't get enough calcium should you consider a supplement, and it generally recommended that calcium supplementation not exceed 500 mg per dose, or more than 900 mg per day. You can get more information about these supplements, including our tests and reviews of products, in the Calcium Supplements Review >>
Fish Oil -- Despite the fact that omega-3 fatty acids that have been linked to some heart healthy effects, it seems that the benefits come from consumption of fish, and not supplements. Only if you don't eat fish might fish oil supplements provide some heart benefit. Also, because fish oil supplements can have a blood-thinning effect, they should be used with caution in people taking other blood-thinning supplements or medications. You can get more information about these supplements, including our tests and reviews of products, in the Fish/Marine Oil Supplements Review >>
Policosanol -- Although there is some evidence from several studies from Cuba suggesting a cholesterol-lowering effect, other studies have failed to find this effect, as noted in our Cholesterol-Lowering Supplements Review>>
Learn more about supplements for lowering cholesterol: