At the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2022, researchers discuss their findings that six widely used dietary supplements often advertised to promote heart health are actually ineffective at lowering cholesterol levels compared to the effects elicited by statins.
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What is cholesterol?
There are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL, which is often considered the “good” type of cholesterol, can protect individuals from atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease by preventing plaque accumulation within the arteries.
Conversely, an excessive amount of LDL, otherwise known as the “bad” type of cholesterol, can accumulate within vessel walls, ultimately contributing to the formation of plaques. The accumulation of these plaques within the arteries can reduce blood flow to various organs, including the heart, leg muscles, or brain. Thus, high LDL levels exceeding 130 milligrams (mg)/deciliter (dL) may indicate an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Globally, in 2020, there were 4.51 million deaths attributable to high LDL cholesterol, which was up 19% from 2010.”
About the study
Many dietary supplements are advertised as “heart healthy” due to their ability to reduce cholesterol levels. Despite the lack of sufficient data to support these claims, many people will take these supplements and believe that they are as effective, if not more effective, than cholesterol management drugs that have been approved for use by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In an effort to better understand the true efficacy of these supplements as compared to a low-dose statin, the researchers of the current study conducted a randomized, single-blinded clinical trial that included rosuvastatin and placebo as the positive and negative controls, respectively, as well as fish oil, cinnamon, garlic, turmeric, plant sterols, and red yeast rice supplements.
For 28 days, the study participants were randomly assigned to receive the placebo, 5 mg of rosuvastatin, 2,400 mg of fish oil, 2,400 mg of cinnamon, 5,000 µg garlic, 4,500 mg of turmeric, 1,600 mg of plant sterols, or 2,400 mg red yeast.
In the current study titled Supplements, Placebo or Rosuvastatin Study (SPORT), researchers analyzed the data of 199 otherwise healthy adults between the ages of 40 and 75 years with no prior history of cardiovascular disease. At baseline, the LDL levels of the participants ranged between 70-189 mg/dL and were associated with a 5-20% risk of developing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease within the next ten years.
At the end of the study period, the researchers observed that statin recipients experienced a mean reduction of 37.9% in their LDL levels. Conversely, all dietary supplement recipients exhibited LDL levels comparable to those of placebo recipients. Notably, HDL cholesterol levels increased in garlic supplement recipients compared to the placebo group.
Furthermore, rosuvastatin recipients exhibited a 19% reduction in blood triglyceride levels, whereas placebo and all dietary supplement recipients did not exhibit any difference in their triglyceride levels by day 28.
HDL cholesterol levels did not increase nor decrease following statin treatment. However, plant sterols were found to reduce HDL cholesterol levels compared to placebo recipients.
Statin, placebo and all dietary supplements did not significantly impact the levels of inflammatory markers within the blood throughout the study period.
Despite the marketed heart-protective benefits of many dietary supplements, it is unlikely that these supplements significantly impact cholesterol levels.
Nevertheless, it remains crucial that people consume a nutrient-dense diet promoting a heart-healthy lifestyle to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition to eating various foods in moderation, the American Heart Association also emphasizes the importance of mild-to-moderate physical activity, particularly for those with high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
The researchers note that it is possible that some supplements may require a longer duration of consumption to have a significant impact on cholesterol levels. Thus, future studies are needed to determine the potential short- and long-term effects of these and other dietary supplements on cholesterol levels.