There are a lot of vitamins out there claiming to promote heart health. So it’s no surprise that people are wondering if they should begin taking them or switch from their usual multivitamin.
But for many that claim to offer cardiac benefits, there’s little evidence-based data supporting that using vitamin supplements protects your heart.
Preventive cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD, talks about the most common claims and the best way to protect your heart.
Are there any heart-healthy vitamins?
While some vitamins or supplements may help lower cholesterol or improve blood pressure — things that can lead to heart disease — Dr. Cho says that many of the claims when it comes to heart health may be misleading.
“Supplement manufacturers do a good job selling the idea of health in general, but so-called heart health vitamins are not tested for efficacy,” Dr. Cho says.
Even multivitamins that have been formulated for heart health or other conditions aren’t evaluated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
You should always talk with your doctor if you’re considering adding vitamins or supplements to your routine for any reason. While some vitamins may not be harmful, some may carry risks associated with heart function.
Vitamin C, for example, may not harm your heart and can be taken to support other aspects of your health. It doesn’t offer any particular benefits for heart health, though.
On the other hand, it’s important to know that vitamin E can actually increase the risk of heart failure and stroke for some people. “Patients who are under medical care for heart-related health issues are strongly discouraged from using vitamin E,” Dr. Cho says.
Potential risks of vitamin D with calcium have also been shown. Dr. Cho says only those with very low levels should consider supplementation.
Other types of supplements like those made with animal thyroid may also be dangerous in certain circumstances. They can interact with heart medicines and cause unwanted effects like rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure or increased bleeding.
“Don’t take chances with your heart, and make sure to run anything by your doctor that you plan to put into your body,” Dr. Cho advises.
Popular ‘heart health’ vitamins
You may have read claims that these vitamins or supplements can benefit your heart health. Here’s what we know.
To date, only large doses of prescription fish oil may have some cardiac benefit.
However, for patients with atrial fibrillation, fish oil may actually increase the risk for more atrial fibrillation. Also, it can cause increased bleeding.
Dr. Cho recommends that people don’t take fish oil unless your doctor suggests it for other medical reasons.
Many of us get enough magnesium each day by eating foods like spinach, nuts and avocados.
But if you have a magnesium deficiency, you may develop symptoms like numbness and tingling, personality changes, abnormal heart rhythms and seizures.
If you experience fatigue or have muscle spasms, weakness or stiffness, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Your doctor will run a blood test or check calcium and potassium levels to help pinpoint the problem.
But taking a magnesium supplement if your levels are normal hasn’t been shown to help with heart health.
One of the B vitamins, folic acid may help lower homocysteine levels, which can harden arteries.
While the amino acid has been linked to heart disease, studies have been mixed on whether folic acid may prevent heart attacks and strokes.
Most of us don’t need to take a folic acid supplement. Instead, make sure you get enough folate by eating foods like spinach, asparagus and whole grains.
The co-enzyme, also known as ubiquinone and ubiquinol, may be related to muscle damage.
There are also some claims that CoQ10 may help those with statin-associated myopathy syndrome (SAMS) and congestive heart failure, but research has been revealing.
A study on congestive heart failure found that participants who took 100 micrograms a day had fewer major adverse cardiac events than those who took a placebo.
Ideally, you want to get fiber naturally from the foods you eat like fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. But supplements are an option to help you get your daily amount.
Fiber has been shown to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol, while raising “good” HDL cholesterol.
Red yeast rice
A type of fermented rice, red yeast rice has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.
The rice is made up of monacolin K, a compound that’s found in prescription medicines called lovastatin that help lower cholesterol.
But Dr. Cho suggests talking to your doctor about the benefits of taking red yeast rice, as some side effects include liver dysfunction, bloating, gas and stomach pain.
What’s the best way to get vitamins?
While the research on heart health-formulated vitamins and supplements has been mixed, there’s still some good news if you want to take care of your heart.
Eating heart-healthy foods like fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, along with other elements like fiber and water, already give you the nutrients you need for healthy heart function — which are also essential to your overall health.
“A healthy diet and regular exercise is still the most proven way you can take care of your heart,” Dr. Cho explains.