Guide to heart health supplements: What works and what doesn’t

Are you concerned about maintaining optimal heart health as you age? Research suggests dietary supplements may prevent heart disease, a leading cause of global death.

Millions take supplements yearly, hoping to boost heart function and reduce disease risk. However, the supplement landscape is vast and often needs to be clarified.

Which supplements genuinely benefit heart health, and which ones fail to deliver on their promises? 

This guide aims to clarify which supplements are effective, backed by rigorous scientific evidence, and how to safely incorporate them into your lifestyle for enhanced heart health.

What are supplements?

Supplements are concentrated sources of nutrients or other substances with a nutritional or physiological effect, taken to complement the diet and fill nutritional gaps.

Various forms of health supplements, including tablets, capsules, powders, and liquids, are available with a wide range of ingredients to enhance health.

Vitamins are organic compounds essential to maintaining growth and normal metabolism. Because your body cannot produce most vitamins, they must be obtained from diet or supplements. 

Common examples include vitamin D, which is known for its role in bone health, and vitamin C, which is crucial for immune function and skin health.

Minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc, are inorganic elements that also play critical roles in various bodily functions. 

They help build strong bones, regulate muscle and nerve function, and maintain cardiovascular health.

Fatty acids, particularly omega-3s, are another popular supplement. Derived primarily from fish oil and flaxseeds, omega-3 fatty acids are celebrated for their potential to decrease the risk of heart disease due to their anti-inflammatory properties.

Each type of supplement serves a unique purpose, and the choice to use them should be based on specific health needs and goals. 

What supplements are effective for heart health?

1. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are highly regarded for their robust benefits in heart health, particularly in reducing triglycerides linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Regular consumption of omega-3s, typically found in fish oil and flaxseeds, is associated with a lower likelihood of heart attacks and strokes. These fatty acids also help to moderate blood pressure and improve overall heart function. 

Evidence suggests that omega-3 supplementation can be a proactive measure to enhance heart health and prevent cardiovascular diseases [1]​.

omega-3 fatty acids

2. Folic acid

Folic acid plays a critical role in cardiovascular health by effectively lowering homocysteine levels, an amino acid that, at elevated levels, is associated with an increased risk of stroke and heart disease. 

By regulating homocysteine, folic acid supplementation can significantly reduce the risk of developing these severe cardiovascular conditions. 

Research supports using folic acid or folate as preventive strategies against stroke and other heart-related issues, especially in populations with low dietary intake, making them essential supplements for those at risk or with existing heart health concerns [2].

3. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

CoQ10 is recognized for potentially reducing all-cause mortality among individuals with cardiovascular conditions. 

This naturally occurring antioxidant plays a vital role in cell energy production and is particularly crucial for heart muscle function. 

Supplementation with CoQ10 may enhance cardiac efficiency and stability, thereby potentially lowering the incidence of fatal heart events. 

Clinical studies suggest that CoQ10 can be particularly beneficial for patients with congestive heart failure, offering a supportive therapy that improves heart function and enhances overall survival rates​​ [2].

4.  L-Arginine and L-Citrulline

L-arginine and L-citrulline are amino acids that are pivotal in managing blood pressure and offering cardiovascular benefits. 

They aid in producing nitric oxide, a compound essential for blood vessel relaxation and improved blood flow. This mechanism can lead to lower blood pressure and enhanced heart health. 

For individuals struggling with cardiovascular issues, supplementation with these amino acids has shown promise in reducing arterial stiffness and improving endothelial function, which is crucial for preventing heart diseases [2]. 

Their beneficial effects on the circulatory system support their use in comprehensive strategies aimed at improving cardiovascular health and preventing hypertension

5. Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral that significantly affects blood pressure control and overall cardiovascular health. 

It aids in the relaxation of blood vessels, which can lead to lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of hypertension—a major factor in heart disease. 

Magnesium’s role in maintaining a healthy heartbeat and preventing arrhythmias is also well-documented, making it essential for heart health management. 

For individuals at risk of cardiovascular disease, integrating magnesium supplements into their diet can support heart function and mitigate the dangers associated with high blood pressure and cardiac dysfunction [2]​​.

6. Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA)

ALA is recognized for its antioxidant properties, which are crucial in reducing oxidative stress, a significant factor in cardiovascular disease progression. Its ability to improve endothelial function is particularly beneficial for heart health. 

It helps maintain the elasticity of blood vessels, enhance blood flow, and reduce arterial stiffness. 

These effects collectively support cardiovascular health by preventing the development of atherosclerosis and other heart-related conditions. 

ALA offers a promising option for those seeking to enhance heart health through dietary supplementation by tackling oxidative damage and supporting vascular integrity [2]​​.

Supplements with limited or no benefits for heart health

1. Antioxidant vitamins (A, C, E)

Despite their popularity, antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E have shown limited benefits in managing blood pressure and cholesterol, two critical factors in cardiovascular health. 

Extensive research has evaluated their impact on heart disease prevention and management, with results consistently indicating that these antioxidants do not significantly influence blood lipid levels or arterial health [1]. 

Consumers should be cautious of claims suggesting marked cardiovascular benefits from these vitamins alone, as current evidence does not support these outcomes​​.

2. Beta-carotene

Beta-carotene, often pursued for its potential antioxidant properties, is ineffective in cardiovascular protection and may even increase mortality rates.

Studies have specifically highlighted concerns when beta-carotene is used by smokers or those previously exposed to asbestos, as it may increase the risk of lung cancer and thereby contribute to higher overall mortality. 

Given these risks, beta-carotene supplementation is generally advised against, especially for those at high risk or with a history of smoking [1]​​​​.

3. Multivitamins and multiminerals

Multivitamins and multiminerals are commonly consumed with the hope of preventing cardiovascular diseases; however, scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness remains sparse. 

Large-scale studies and clinical trials have demonstrated that these supplements do not significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks or strokes. 

This finding suggests that while taking multivitamins might support general health, they should not be relied upon as a strategy to prevent cardiovascular disease. 

Consumers are encouraged to focus more on maintaining a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle as more effective ways to protect heart health​ [1].

When should you consider heart health supplements?

Supplements can be valuable to your diet under specific circumstances, particularly when addressing nutrient deficiencies or specific health conditions. 

For example, if you are deficient in vitamin D, a supplement may be necessary to achieve optimal levels, especially in regions with limited sunlight [3]. 

Similarly, individuals on vegan diets might consider B12 supplementation [4], as this vitamin is primarily found in animal products.

It is crucial to consult with healthcare professionals before starting any supplement regimen. A healthcare provider can offer guidance based on a comprehensive health evaluation and blood tests to determine your needs. 

This personalized approach ensures that your supplements are beneficial and necessary for your health, minimizing any risk of overconsumption or interactions with other medications.

How do you choose the right heart health supplements?

Selecting the right supplements involves careful consideration to ensure safety and efficacy:

1. Read labels carefully

Always read the nutritional information and ingredient list on supplement labels. Look for precise details on the form of the nutrient, its amount, and the recommended daily value. Checking the expiration date is also crucial to ensure effectiveness.

2. Choose reputable brands

Opt for supplements from reputable manufacturers that adhere to good manufacturing practices (GMPs)

Brands that have undergone third-party testing by organizations such as USP (United States Pharmacopeia), NSF International, or ConsumerLab.com are more likely to provide products that contain the ingredients listed on the label without harmful contaminants.

3. Understand appropriate dosages

It’s important to understand that more isn’t always better regarding supplements. 

Follow the dosage recommendations provided by your healthcare provider or the guidelines indicated on the product label. 

Exceeding these recommendations can lead to adverse effects and diminish the potential health benefits.

understand appropriate dosages

Is it better to take supplements or eat food for heart health?

Health experts unanimously recommend prioritizing heart-healthy foods in a nutrient-rich diet, which is more beneficial than relying on supplements [5]. 

Whole foods provide a complex array of nutrients, fiber, and other bioactive compounds that work synergistically to improve heart health. 

For example, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and flaxseeds, lower triglycerides and offer anti-inflammatory benefits that supplements alone may not provide.

Supplements, while useful in certain cases—such as addressing specific nutrient deficiencies or meeting the needs of individuals with unique health conditions—should not be the first recourse for heart health [5]. 

Numerous research emphasizes that while some supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and folic acid have shown potential benefits for heart health, they are most effective when used to complement dietary intake, not replace it​​​​​​.

Furthermore, relying solely on supplements can lead to imbalances and potentially overlook the holistic benefits of a balanced diet. Foods naturally contain a variety of nutrients that supplements may lack. 

For instance, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains can provide antioxidants, minerals, and other vitamins that contribute to cardiovascular health and overall well-being [5].

Consul healthcare professionals to help tailor diet and supplement use to your health needs and ensure a comprehensive approach to heart health.

Closing thoughts

This guide has outlined the crucial distinctions between obtaining nutrients from supplements versus whole foods, emphasizing that a balanced diet rich in natural sources remains paramount for heart health. 

Supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid, and magnesium can be supportive, especially when specific deficiencies are identified. 

However, integrating these supplements should always complement a nutrient-rich diet and not replace it. 

To ensure a holistic approach to cardiovascular wellness, it is highly advisable to consult healthcare professionals. 

They can provide personalized advice that optimizes your dietary choices and supplements use, aligning them with your unique health needs.

FAQs

What vitamins are best for heart health?

Omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid, and magnesium are key supplements for heart health, known to reduce triglycerides, lower homocysteine levels, and manage blood pressure effectively.

What supplements are good for blood pressure and heart health?

Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and Coenzyme Q10 are effective supplements for managing blood pressure and enhancing overall heart health by improving cardiac function and vascular integrity.

What vitamin removes plaque from arteries?

No vitamin has been definitively proven to remove plaque from arteries. However, vitamins like niacin (Vitamin B3) can help manage cholesterol levels, potentially reducing new plaque formation.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6822653/
[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109722071066
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8299926/
[4] https://www.vegansociety.com/resources/nutrition-and-health/nutrients/vitamin-b12/what-every-vegan-should-know-about-vitamin-b12
[5] https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/vitamin-supplements-hype-or-help-for-healthy-eating

Photograph: Sonyachny/Envato
The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.