Few Supplements Beneficial to Cardiovascular Health

For decades, older adults have been advised to take supplements and follow certain diets to protect their cardiovascular health but the latest research has found that very few diets or supplements have any significant benefit for heart health.  

According to a recent New York Times report, a new study of data from hundreds of clinical trials found that only a handful of frequently recommended supplements offer any cardiovascular health protection.  And at least one may cause harm to heart health.  The research, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish oil) and a reduced salt diet demonstrated a noticeable heart health benefit.  Taking calcium with vitamin D however, was associated with an increased risk for stroke.  Researchers believe this raised risk for stroke is linked with an increase in blood clotting and hardening of the arteries.

Although it is to be expected that the debate about what supplements and diets are beneficial for cardiovascular health will continue, people should be wary about spending their money on a host of supplements that may do little to protect heart health.   The new study, which involved 992,000 people and used data from 277 clinical trials is the most complete analysis of the use of vitamin and mineral supplements to promote heart health to date. 

And even the studies that supported taking folic acid were primarily using data from research in China where deficiencies in this vitamin are common.  Because North American food is fortified with folic acid, the benefits of taking an additional supplement in the United States or Canada is unclear.  Even the advantages of omega-3 fatty acid supplements are somewhat uncertain.  Although there is no evidence the supplements will do harm, trials show only a minimum benefit to fish oil supplements, possibly more for people who don’t eat fish or only consume small amounts of fish. 

Similarly, low-fat diets have failed to provide solid evidence they lower the risk for heart disease. Cutting salt was found to reduce deaths from heart disease among people with high blood pressure and lower mortality from all causes in people with normal blood pressure.   However, each person’s body reacts differently to salt, fat and carbohydrates.    

What is clear time and again, is that a Mediterranean style diet, rich in fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, whole grain, beans and olive oil appears to be the overall winner for at least not worsening cardiovascular health.   It may not be the fountain of youth or longevity for all people, but most experts agree it is not harmful to cardiovascular health. 

Always talk with your doctor before starting or stopping any medication or supplement, even over-the-counter drugs or vitamins, and before making any changes in diet.