With heart diseases accounting for nearly one-third of deaths worldwide, finding ways to improve heart health is vital. Heart diseases include heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. Meanwhile, heart disease risk factors include high blood pressure, high blood fats or cholesterol, and smoking, among others.
- Daily intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats from fatty fish like salmon as well as nuts, seeds, avocado, and plant-based oils
- Weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans, and eggs
- Moderate portions of dairy products
- Limited consumption of red meat
When it comes to exercise, experts suggest a combination of aerobic, resistance, and stretching exercises for optimal heart health.
- Cardio exercises like walking, swimming, or biking can help improve circulation, blood pressure, and heart rate.
- Resistance exercise, or strength training, includes exercises like free weights, resistance band, or body-weight resistance exercises. Perform these exercises on two nonconsecutive days weekly.
- Flexibility exercises like stretching are beneficial before and after workout. Experts suggest that such practices can provide more freedom of movement to do daily physical activity.
If diet and exercise are not enough to help your heart health risk, then adding a dietary supplement may help. Be sure to keep taking any prescribed medicines unless a qualified doctor tells you otherwise. Also, talk to your pharmacist before starting any dietary supplement to prevent any potential medication interactions.
Top supplements for heart health
Fish oil lowers blood fats
This marine-based oil supplement is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. In turn, these antioxidant-rich omega-3 fatty acids (O-3FA) are great for heart health. You can find fish oil in both supplement form and certain foods.
Such foods include fatty fish such as salmon as well as nuts, seeds, avocado, and plant-based oils. Also, the compounds in fish oil that are vital to heart health include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Fish oil can help lower the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and to lower triglycerides and blood pressure. Research shows that intake of the polyunsaturated fatty acids like fish oil can improve lipid metabolism as well as glucose metabolism. This means fish oil could help lower the risk of heart disease in those with type 2 diabetes. This is important since those with diabetes are at higher risk for heart disease than the general population.
It’s important to note that some studies may say that fish oil has no impact on heart disease risk. However, experts suggest that since many people consume fish as part of their diet, these results may be inaccurate. This is because a threshold effect may exist in which O-3FA intake above a certain amount yields no further benefit.
Fish oil is generally safe when you consume the recommended amount. Potential side effects include bad breath, indigestion, nausea, or loose stools. Those people taking blood thinners, blood pressure medicines, or fish or shellfish allergies should not take fish oil. The common daily dosage for fish oil is 1000 milligrams consisting of 180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA.
CoQ10 lowers inflammation
Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10, is an antioxidant naturally made in the body that functions in growth and maintenance. This compound, due to its anti-inflammatory properties, can also benefit heart health. CoQ10 levels decrease with age and are lower in those with heart disease.
Research shows that CoQ10 supplements may benefit those with heart failure as a supplemental therapy. Other research shows that CoQ10 can lessen cardiovascular disease (CVD) and inflammation with its antioxidant properties. Furthermore, a 2018 study reports that CoQ10 deficiency is associated with myocardial dysfunction or reduced blood flow to the heart.
Potential side effects of CoQ10 include upper abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, headaches, and fatigue, to name a few. The recommended dosage for CoQ10 is 50 to 200 milligrams daily. Those people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking blood thinners or certain diabetes medications should not take CoQ10. Therefore, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting CoQ10 supplementation.
Fiber helps your heart
Although it’s not digested by the body, fiber plays an important role in both heart and overall health. Fiber is in high amounts in foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, but you can also take fiber supplements.
There are two types of fiber known as insoluble and soluble fiber.
- Insoluble fiber helps bulk the stool.
- Soluble fiber binds with fatty acids and slows digestion.
On the other hand, fiber supplements consist of compounds like psyllium or methylcellulose.
Research shows that high fiber intakes can reduce the incidence and mortality from heart disease. Most people, however, don’t consume the recommended 25 grams daily for women and 38 grams daily for men. However, a 2016 study shows that high intakes of fiber from fruits, vegetables, and legumes can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Therefore, to help lower your risk of heart health issues, be sure to either eat plenty of fiber-rich foods or take a fiber supplement. However, experts suggest that when possible to consume fiber in its whole food form. This is important so you can reap the benefits of the other nutrients and antioxidants in such foods.
Fiber supplements are generally safe in most people but can cause bloating and gas in some people. Therefore, you should consume plenty of fluids to reduce such symptoms. Also, fiber supplements can reduce the effects of medications like aspirin and can lower blood glucose levels. Therefore, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider before starting a fiber supplement.
Magnesium reduces blood pressure
Magnesium is a nutrient that you need to regulate muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. Women need at least 310 milligrams of magnesium daily, while men need around 400 milligrams.
You can find magnesium in many foods like legumes, nuts, seeds, whole greens, dairy products, and fortified cereals. However, if you don’t eat many of these foods, or have low magnesium levels, then you may need a supplement. Magnesium supplements can especially be helpful in those at risk for heart health.
A 2018 study reports that higher levels of circulating magnesium are linked to a lower risk of CVD. Another study reports that subclinical magnesium deficiency can increase heart disease risk. Furthermore, research shows that low serum magnesium concentrations and low magnesium intakes increase the risk of:
- plaque in the arteries
- coronary artery disease
- heart failure
Also, a 2019 study shows that higher serum magnesium levels are linked with a lower risk of cardioembolic stroke. Therefore, taking a magnesium supplement could help improve heart health.
Magnesium is generally safe for most when taken as recommended, but may cause side effects like nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Experts suggest that a safe dose of magnesium is around 350 milligrams daily. Those with bleeding disorders, kidney problems, or heart block should not take magnesium.
L-Carnitine helps those with heart failure
L-carnitine is derived from an amino acid and works in nearly all cells of the body to produce energy in the body. Research shows that L-carnitine can lower the risk of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and insulin resistance, among other things.
Also, a 2017 study shows that L-carnitine treatment can help improve symptoms in those with congestive heart failure (CHF). It can also improve cardiac functions like left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) and cardiac output. L-carnitine is not an essential nutrient but is safe in dosages up to 2 grams daily. At 3 grams daily, people may experience side effects like nausea, heartburn, vomiting, and diarrhea.
L-carnitine is generally safe for most people for up to 12 months, but larger studies need to confirm the safety of long-term use. Also, some other side effects of L-carnitine that some people may not be aware of are a fishy odor in the urine, breath, and sweat. Those who are pregnant or those with hypothyroidism or seizure disorder should not take L-carnitine.
Green tea and catechins lower cholesterol
Made from the unoxidized dried leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, green tea has many potential health benefits. It’s a staple in Chinese and Indian medicine to heal wounds, regulate body temperature, and improve mental and heart health.
The active ingredients in green tea are known as catechins. Catechins are a type of antioxidant known as a polyphenol. It’s these antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that protect the blood vessels and prevent blood clots.
A 2015 study shows that green tea can reduce total cholesterol and lower the risk of hyperlipidemia and diastolic blood pressure. Also, a 2017 study shows that daily tea intake can reduce the risk of ischemic heart disease. This type of heart disease occurs when heart arteries become narrowed and obstruct blood flow. Finally, a 2018 study reveals that tea drinking can reduce blood pressure, especially in those at risk or with hypertension.
Green tea is generally safe for most adults when you consume in moderation. For high blood pressure, you should consume about 379 milligrams of green tea extract daily. Another alternative is to steep a 3-gram tea bag in 5 ounces water three times daily two hours after meals. And for high cholesterol, experts suggest 150 to 2500 milligrams catechins in green tea or green tea extracts daily.
You should limit green tea intake to five cups a day since more than this may cause more harm than good. This is because green tea contains a compound known as oxalate that can cause kidney stones. Also, since green tea contains caffeine, those with anxiety or certain heart conditions should limit intake. Pregnant women should consume no more than 2 cups daily.
Finally, those with weak bones, anemia, liver disease, bleeding disorders, or certain heart conditions should not consume green tea. Be sure to talk with your doctor before starting a green tea regimen.
Garlic provides potent blood pressure support
This pungent herb is not only great for cooking but is also beneficial for heart health. It’s the anti-inflammatory properties of garlic that can help improve artery health and blood pressure. Research shows that by reducing the risk of blood pressure and total cholesterol, garlic can reduce overall heart disease risk.
A 2018 study shows that a particular type of garlic known as black garlic can improve quality of life as well as LVEF in those with congestive heart failure (CHF). Another study looked at the impact of another type of garlic called aged garlic extract (AGE). Study results show that Kyolic AGE can reduce blood pressure in those with uncontrolled hypertension. This type of garlic also indicates the potential to improve arterial stiffness, inflammation, as well as gut microbiome profile.
Garlic is safe for most people when taken at appropriate dosages. Potential side effects of garlic include lousy breath or odor, heartburn, nausea, or diarrhea. Side effects are more prevalent after consuming raw garlic. Those with bleeding disorders should not take garlic, and those with low blood pressure should consume with caution.
The recommended dosage for garlic varies depending on the type of garlic supplement that it is. An example of a recommended dosage is 300 to 1500 milligrams daily of garlic tablets.
Folic acid reduces heart disease and stroke risk
The B vitamin known as folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that is vital for cell growth. It’s especially crucial for child-bearing and pregnant women to take since it prevents neurological defects in unborn children.
A 2016 meta-analysis shows that folic acid supplementation could help heart health too. Study results show that folic acid intake can help reduce stroke risk by 10-percent and CVD risk by 4-percent. Another study reveals that high concentrations of homocysteine and low levels of vitamin B12 and folate are related to heart disease. Therefore, folic acid supplements, of which some folic acid converts to folate in the body, could help lower heart disease risk.
Furthermore, a 2017 study shows that folic acid supplements taken before pregnancy helped reduce CVD risk. On the other hand, lower dietary folate intake during pregnancy led to increased CVD risk.
Folic acid is generally safe when taken in recommended doses by mouth or injected. The recommended dosage of folic acid is 250 micrograms to 1 milligram daily. Higher doses of folic acid could cause side effects like abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, or rash, to name a few. Those with a history of heart disease, cancer, or seizure disorder should consult with a doctor before taking folic acid.
Final thoughts on Supplements for Heart Health
Heart health is crucial to overall health and well-being. And although diet and exercise are an essential part of this, certain dietary supplements may also help. Such supplements can help reduce inflammation in the body and turn, reduce one’s risk of chronic diseases like heart disease.
However, it’s important to note that supplements should never replace prescribed medications for heart disease and heart health risk factors. And always be sure to talk with your healthcare provider before starting any new dietary supplement as part of your health regimen. This will help prevent any potential side effects or medication interactions.
Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, health editor, and founder of LighttrackNutrition.com. She has been a dietitian since 2010, and has helped thousands of patients in arenas like weight management, fitness, long-term care, rehab, and bariatric nutrition. Staci has also been writing and editing since 2011 for such websites as CDiabetes, Anirva, and Casa de Sante, to name a few and has been a featured expert for websites like Shape.com, ThisisInsider.com, and Eat This Not That. Staci hopes to provide others accessible, accurate, and practical health and wellness information so they can make lasting healthy lifestyle changes.