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Heart supplements offer hope with solid studies to back up promises

From CoQ10 to omega-3s, supplements for the heart are supported by compelling research.

The supplement shelves in your store offer customers more than vitamins and minerals: They also offer hope — for better health, more energy and a longer life, just to start. And one category of supplements also offers solid research to back up those promises: products for heart health. 

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

The human body makes its own CoQ10, a substance that protects cells from oxidative damage, fights chronic inflammation, regulates genes that control cellular growth and maintenance, and supports the production of adenosine triphosphate, the energy molecules that fuel cellular activity. 

But at around age 40, that production begins to decline, said internist Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, and that’s associated with everything from diabetes mellitus to cardiovascular disease. In fact, three-quarters of people with cardiovascular diseases have low levels of CoQ10.

“If a patient is taking a statin, they should also take 200 mg daily of CoQ10.”
— Jacob Teitelbaum, MD

Boosting the body’s CoQ10 with supplements offers a variety of potential benefits:

Lower risk of death. In a study published in the Journal of Cardiology, more than 200 people aged 70 and older took either a supplement with CoQ10 and selenium or a placebo. Nine years later, those taking the supplement had half the rate of death from cardiovascular disease. 

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Improved exercise capacity. In a meta-analysis of 14 randomized, placebo-controlled studies involving more than 2,100 people with congestive heart failure, supplementing the diet with CoQ10 reduced mortality by 39% and improved exercise capacity. 

Reduced statin side effects. CoQ10 can reduce the common statin side effect of muscle pain and exercise intolerance. In a study published in Medical Science Monitor, people who took 100 mg of CoQ10 daily with their statins had a 26% reduction in the intensity of muscle pain and a 35% reduction in the interference of pain in daily activities. “If a patient is taking a statin, they should also take 200 mg daily of CoQ10,” concluded Teitelbaum.

Lower blood pressure. A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials published in September reported that CoQ10 supplementation significantly reduced systolic blood pressure in patients with cardiometabolic diseases. 


Farther down the supplement aisle, customers can find another cardiovascular powerhouse: Allium sativum (garlic). Consumers can choose traditional garlic pills or aged black garlic, which is raw garlic that has been exposed to high heat and humidity for up to a month. Studies suggest that aged black garlic has more water-soluble antioxidant compounds than fresh garlic. 

A systematic review in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition found that garlic consumption lowers triglycerides and inflammatory markers; reduces total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol while increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL; “good” cholesterol); and inhibits the progression of coronary artery calcification. 

[Read more: Probiotics lead the OTC trend attracting the natural shopper]

A meta-analysis published in the Journal of Nutrition with more than 900 participants showed that garlic lowered both systolic blood pressure (by an average of 8.6 mm HG) and diastolic blood pressure (6.1 mm HM) in people with hypertension.

People who take blood thinners, statins or hypertension medications should not take garlic without talking to their physician or pharmacists first, says cardiologist Stephen Sinatra, founder of the Heart MD Institute.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

For decades, studies have supported a link between omega-3 fatty acids and a lower rate of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease. These acids include eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, found in fish and fish oil, and alpha-linolenic acid, found in plants.

A meta-analysis that included 149,359 participants found that omega-3 consumption was associated with a 13% reduction in heart attacks, a 35% reduction in heart attack deaths and a 9% reduction in coronary heart disease mortality. 

Higher blood levels of both fish- and plant-based omega-3s help lower the odds of a poor prognosis in the years following a heart attack.

Omega-3s lower levels of triglycerides, which have been linked with fatty buildup in the artery walls that increases the risk of heart attack.

Omega-3s have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and may also improve the function of the endothelial cells that line blood vessels. 

Omega-3 consumption may reduce the risk of heart arrhythmia and slightly lower blood pressure. 

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In April, researchers noted in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology that “Impressive scientific evidence continues to accumulate supporting the use of omega-3 in the treatment and/or prevention of heart failure.” The researchers mused, “It is perplexing why this safe and inexpensive therapy has not been adopted as a component of guideline-directed medical therapy for [heart failure].”

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is linked to a host of ailments, including cardiovascular disease. The results of a study recently published in the European Heart Journal suggested that people with vitamin D deficiency are more likely to have cardiovascular disease and hypertension. People with the lowest concentrations of vitamin D had double the risk of cardiovascular disease compared with people with optimal levels. 

While it appears beneficial to correct deficiencies, there is no evidence that mega doses of the vitamin offer superior protection, according to researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital who work on the ongoing VITAL study, which involves more than 25,000 people. (VITAL stands for VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL.) 

Customers should work with their physicians to identify and treat any vitamin D deficiency. 

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COVID-19’s Impact

Boosting heart health isn’t just important for the elderly. After a steady prepandemic decline, the number of cardiovascular deaths is rising among people of all ages, researchers from Cedars-Sinai’s Smidt Heart Institute reported in the Journal of Medical Virology. The deaths appear to be linked to spikes in the COVID-19 pandemic and are striking people as young as 25. By the second year of the pandemic, the predicted versus observed rates of heart attack deaths had increased by 29.9% for people ages 25 to 44, by 19.6% for people ages 45 to 64, and by 13.7% for people age 65 and older. 

COVID-19 could trigger or accelerate existing coronary artery disease, the researchers noted, demonstrating the importance of taking all steps to boost heart health now more than ever. 

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