6 common ‘heart-healthy’ supplements fail to lower bad cholesterol

CHICAGO — Six popular supplements with a reputation for improving heart health actually fail to effectively lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol, a new study reveals. Researchers with the American Heart Association found that dietary supplements like fish oil, cinnamon, and garlic perform as poorly as a placebo and can’t match the cholesterol-lowering power of statins.

The new report notes that Americans spend a fortune on these supplements each year, with the hope that they’ll keep their cholesterol in check and reduce the risk of heart disease. However, results show all six supplements researchers tested had little-to-no impact on LDL cholesterol.

“According to a 2020 market research analysis, Americans spend an estimated $50 billion on dietary supplements annually, and many are marketed for ‘heart protection’ or ‘cholesterol management’. Yet there is minimal-to-no research demonstrating these benefits,” says study author Luke Laffin, M.D., co-director of the Center for Blood Pressure Disorders at the Cleveland Clinic, in a media release. “Some people also believe supplements are as effective or more effective than cholesterol-lowering statin medications.”

Why is LDL cholesterol so ‘bad’?

Study authors note that there are two types of cholesterol which effect heart health. Doctors refer to high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol as “good” because of its protective effects on the heart and ability to absorb bad cholesterol in the blood.

Meanwhile, high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) form deposits that can narrow and stiffen arteries — leading to heart disease and increasing stroke risk. Studies have found that elevated bad cholesterol is a growing problem worldwide. In 2020, doctors attributed 4.51 million deaths to high levels of LDL cholesterol — that’s a 19-percent increase from 2010.

Which supplements fail to improve cholesterol levels?

During this project, the team studied 199 adults between 40 and 75 years-old who had no history of heart disease. Each patient had LDL cholesterol levels between 70 mg/dL and 189 mg/dL, and a five to 20-percent risk of developing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease within the next decade.

Researchers randomly assigned these participants to one of eight groups, analyzing their LDL cholesterol and other markers of heart disease over a 28-day period. These groups included patients taking a placebo, a 5-mg statin medication called rosuvastatin, or one of these six dietary supplements:

  • Nature Made® fish oil 2,400 mg
  • Nutriflair™ brand cinnamon 2,400 mg
  • Garlique™ brand garlic with 5,000 mcg of allicin
  • BioSchwartz brand turmeric curcumin with bioperine 4,500 mg
  • Nature Made® CholestOff Plus™ with 1,600 mg of plant sterols
  • Arazo Nutrition brand of red yeast rice 2,400 mg

Results reveal participants taking statins saw an average reduction in their LDL cholesterol levels of 37.9 percent. Meanwhile, those taking a supplement saw the same minimal change as those taking a placebo.

Patients taking statins saw a 24-percent decrease in their total cholesterol levels, which was also more substantial than the placebo and supplement groups. When researchers only compared the placebo and supplement groups, there was no difference in total cholesterol levels at all.

Some supplements may actually have a negative impact

The study also found that rosuvastatin (the statin) decreased blood triglyceride levels by 19 percent. The supplements and placebo group had no impact on this measure of heart disease risk. Notably, rosuvastatin did not significantly change good cholesterol levels.

On the other hand, the team reports that patients taking the plant sterols dietary supplement saw their HDL cholesterol drop. Those taking the garlic dietary supplement also saw their LDL cholesterol rise.

“Although there are prior studies demonstrating that red yeast rice and plant sterol supplements may reduce LDL cholesterol, the findings of our study underscore that the contents of these dietary supplements may vary. Therefore, they do not produce consistent reductions in cholesterol,” Laffin concludes. “This study sends an important public health message that dietary supplements commonly taken for ‘cholesterol health’ or ‘heart health’ are unlikely to offer meaningful impact on cholesterol levels. The results also indicate that a low-dose statin offers important beneficial effects on one’s cholesterol profile. Future research should study other types of dietary supplements and their potential impact on cholesterol levels.”

The researchers presented their findings at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2022.

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