Supplements for Heart Health

Supplements For The Heart

Heart disease is not something one should worry about, right? There are more worrisome things in the world. On the other hand, maybe you should turn your attention to your heart. Heart disease and stroke are the second and third leading causes of death in Canada. That means 29% of all deaths in Canada can be attributed to cardiovascular disease. In case you were wondering, cancer is at the top of the list at 30% of all deaths in Canada. Someone has a heart attack every seven minutes in Canada. There is good news though: rates of heart attack and stroke have been declining. The rates have dropped 25% over the last 10 years. The reasons for this are unclear, but I'm not fussy why. Any reason for a decline in heart disease is a good reason. Vitamin and botanical supplementation can play a role in the prevention of heart disease. This month I shall discuss the most popular supplements for heart disease and new research on the subject. 

Depending on who you read, there are either five or eight modifiable major risk factors for developing heart disease. The word modifiable is used because these are areas in which you can make changes. Men have a greater risk of developing heart disease, you can't really modify this fact. Well, actually, you can, but that is an entirely different article. The areas where you can make changes are: smoking, alcohol intake, physical inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes. Perhaps the best, and infrequently mentioned, supplement to prevent heart disease is regular exercise. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that you get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week. Preferably in bouts of 10 minutes or more. I like the idea of micro exercising. It can be hard to find the time to dedicate a half to one hour to exercising three times a week. Why not do it in smaller pieces? This year I have started doing the seven minute workout. This workout is only seven minutes long and works every muscle group in the body. There is even a smartphone app that tells you how to do it. Try your best, the health rewards can be great. It is thought that if you are inactive and become physically active, you can reduce your heart attack risk by 35% to 55%. 

What other risk factors can supplements help to reduce? Another easy way to reduce your risk of developing heart disease is to stop smoking. It sounds easy, but it is certainly not. Talk to your Peoples Pharmacist about ways to help you quit smoking. Or even better, take the first step yourself. In BC, call the medical information line (8-1-1) and ask to speak to a QuitNow coach. They can also give you an authorization for free nicotine patches or chewing gum, which you can obtain from your local Peoples Pharmacist. 

Are there supplements that can help lower your cholesterol? Dietary fibre is one of the most overlooked options to help lower cholesterol. One study found that 3.4 g of psyllium taken three times a day lowered LDL by 20%. Fibre works due to its ability to bind to cholesterol in the gut, correct? Not necessarily. There is evidence that the metabolism of fibre may lead to the products, propionate (a short-chain fatty acid) and alpha-tocotrienol (similar to vitamin E), both of which can prevent your body from making its own supply of cholesterol. Taking lots of extra fibre can cause stomach related side effects such as gas, bloating and indigestion. If you wish to increase your intake of fibre, start with small amounts and work your way up from there. You do not have to stomach those gritty powdery drinks anymore, fibre supplements can be found in capsules. Lots of fibre can also interfere with the absorption of certain medications, ask your Peoples Pharmacist for more information. 

Another overlooked supplement for lowering cholesterol is vitamin B3 (niacin). It is thought that niacin reduces the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol that the liver makes. This vitamin can also increase the about of HDL (good) cholesterol produced by the body up to 35%. That is better that some prescription medications. Niacin also has the ability to reduce triglycerides, another risk factor for heart disease. With all these great benefits, why is niacin not used more? The main reason is the primary side effect of skin flushing; at higher doses it can be quite intense. It can also cause liver problems, worsen diabetes and aggravate gout. Ask your physician or Peoples Pharmacist if niacin might still be an option for you. 

Another supplement that can be helpful for heart health is Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Co Q10 is able to lower cholesterol, both total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol. It has been shown to raise HDL (good) by 0.14 mmol/L, but how it does this is not clear. An HDL cholesterol level of less than 0.9 mmol/L means you're at higher risk for heart disease. But CoQ10 can help lower your blood pressure. One small study demonstrated that men who took 120mg of CoQ10 had lowered their blood pressure by 9% after 8 weeks of therapy. There have been no known side effects seen with CoQ10 use. However, this supplement can lower blood glucose levels, so people with diabetes should use this supplement with caution. CoQ10 can also interact with warfarin, a prescription blood-thinner.

Can taking essential or good fatty acids (EFA) help reduce the risk of heart disease? It is true that omega-3 EFA can lower triglycerides. It is also true that an increased intake of omega-3 EFAs has been associated with lower risks of cardiovascular disease. Customers have told me that their cholesterol has gone down after taking supplements high in DHA and EPA, but there are few studies that show this. 

There have been some studies which have shown that omega-3 oils can lower triglycerides by 20%. There are a few supplements that can help lower blood pressure. My favorite supplement, vitamin C, has been shown to be helpful for treating high blood pressure. One 30-day study of 39 individuals, taking medications for hypertension, who received 500 mg of vitamin C daily, showed a reduction of their blood pressure by about 10%. There is also some evidence that the minerals magnesium, calcium and potassium may be associated with high blood pressure. These three minerals work together to help regulate blood pressure in the body. Some studies have shown that people who have high blood pressure may be deficient in these minerals. Perhaps this is why taking these minerals, and thus correcting this nutrient deficiency, can help reduce blood pressure. Ask your Peoples Pharmacist if these supplements would be right for you. 

There are so many other ways to help reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Ask your Peoples Drug Mart Pharmacist for more information. Sometimes they might do an in-store heart disease awareness clinic. Perhaps the easiest thing you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease is to regularly check your blood pressure and go for a walk. The more you know, the healthier you can be.


Ian Lloyd, Pharmacist & Chartered Herbalist



The health articles are for the general information of the reader. While effort is  made to reflect accepted medical practice and knowledge, articles should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specific medical concern or problem and Peoples Drug Mart accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and medical care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. Opinions expressed in sponsored articles by, Dr. Art Hister, Ian Lloyd, and Darlene Booth are editorials and are not necessarily shared by Peoples Drug Mart stores or Peoples Drug Mart (B.C.) Ltd.