Which supplements can help lower cholesterol and keep my heart healthy? Are there any to avoid?
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 >>
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 >>
Red yeast rice
can significantly lower cholesterol, but products vary widely in their amounts of natural, active statin compounds. You can get more information and our tests and comparisons of products in the Red Yeast Rice Supplements Review >>
has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. However, it should not be taken with statin-containing supplements (red yeast rice)
, or with statin drugs
, which could increase the risk of serious events like stroke. You can get more information about niacin, including our tests and reviews of products in the B Vitamin 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 cereals
can 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.
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
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 >>
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 >>
Similarly, improving magnesium
to adequate levels can slightly reduce blood pressure
, and magnesium blood levels in the mid to high normal range have been associated with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease
, as noted in the Magnesium Supplements Review >>
Cocoa powders and dark chocolate
rich in flavanols can improve vascular function and blood pressure, and even raise levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol. You can get more information about these, as well as our tests and reviews of products in the Cocoa Powders, Extracts, NIbs, Supplements, and Chocolates Review >>
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:
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 from cardiovascular 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 >>
Multivitamins have not been found to reduce (nor increase) the risk of heart attack, stroke or death from cardiovascular disease. You can get more information about these supplements, including our tests and reviews of products, in the Multivitamin and Multimineral 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:
Can probiotics help lower cholesterol? >>
What is lunasin and does it really reduce cholesterol? >>
To lower my cholesterol, I am taking a phytosterol supplement. Will taking other supplements, like red yeast rice or fish oil, help lower my cholesterol even further? >>
For two years, I used a red yeast rice brand which ConsumerLab.com's report showed to contain the highest amount of lovastatin. With just one pill per day, it kept my cholesterol lower (down to 205 from 260 before starting). I switched to a supermarket store brand because it was cheaper and had my blood drawn for work and my cholesterol jumped to 278 (taking 2 pills per day)! I don't think the store brand had anything in it -- is that possible? Can you test it? >>
Does garlic lower cholesterol? >>
When is the best time of day to take red yeast rice? >.
My doctor warned me that red yeast rice can cause liver damage - is that true? >>
When taking a statin drug like Lipitor or Crestor, are there supplements I should avoid, or be taking? >>
I read that sterol supplements to lower cholesterol like CholestOff can block the absorption of vitamins. Is that true? >>
Does glucosamine raise "bad" LDL cholesterol? >>
This CL Answer initially posted on 1/31/2014.
Last updated 12/18/2017.