Health supplements are a big industry. According to a recent market survey, Americans spend about $50 billion per year on these vitamins and minerals to pump up their nutrient needs. Many of these supplements are taken to improve heart health and lower cholesterol. Even though studies to support the advantages are scarce and inconsistent, many people believe that supplements are a better (natural, safer) choice over statins, the most common cholesterol-lowering drugs.

What Was Tested…

To learn more about the possible benefits of supplements for heart health, researchers from the Cleveland Clinic Center for Blood Pressure Disorders tested six popular supplements against a commonly used statin drug to see how much each of these would lower cholesterol numbers over 28 days. The supplements tested were fish oil, cinnamon, garlic, turmeric curcumin, plant sterols and red yeast rice. The study results were presented at the 2022 American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The study included 190 people ages 40 to 75 without any history of heart disease. The primary aim of the study was to see how the supplements compared to a statin in lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol. LDL is the cholesterol that is linked closely to the risk of death from heart disease and stroke because it deposits fats inside your arteries. Since 2020, deaths linked to LDL cholesterol have gone up nearly 20 percent. The study also looked at the effect on high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol and triglycerides, which are fats also linked to stroke and heart attack.

At the start of the study, LDL cholesterol levels in the study group ranged from 70 to 189 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). The optimal range for LDL cholesterol is less than 100 mg/dL in adults. People in the study were randomly assigned to a supplement, statin, or placebo group.

People in the supplement groups were given the usual recommended dose. People in the statin group were given a low dose of the statin rosuvastatin (Crestor). The placebo group was given an inactive pill and served as the control group. These were the key findings after 28 days…

  • The statin group averaged nearly a 40 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol and a nearly 20 percent reduction in triglycerides. There were no significant side effects.
  • None of the supplement groups had a significant reduction in LDL cholesterol or triglycerides. Their results were similar to the placebo group.
  • The garlic group had a notable increase in LDL.
  • The plant sterol group had a notable decrease in HDL cholesterol.

Supplements Might Take More Time…but Listen to Your Doctor

The researchers conclude that none of the supplements tested had a beneficial effect on cholesterol or triglycerides and would be unlikely to reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke. Based on the results of their study, they strongly advise against substituting a supplement for a statin when a statin is indicated. They note that other supplements may have better results and that their study was limited to 28 days, so it is not known if supplements taken for longer periods might have some benefit.

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