Heart disease is the #1 killer in the U.S. and it’s important to have a heart protection strategy, especially as you get older. It should include exercise and a healthy diet, plus supplements for heart health as needed. All of the supplements we recommend here are proven helpful for heart health. Most can be safely taken in combination. However, red yeast rice and high-dose niacin are best used with medical supervision.
1. Fish Oil
Fish provides both primary and secondary protection—that is, it can help prevent a first heart attack, or a second one. Fish oil provides omega-3 fatty acids which help reduce inflammation that can cause harmful clotting, reduce high triglycerides that can lead to fatty liver, reduce the risk of clogged arteries after angioplasty or bypass surgery, lower your risk for an irregular heartbeat, lower blood pressure and reduce your risk for stroke.
Recent study findings also indicate that fish oil may protect against aging in heart cells by preserving the length of structures called telomeres, which determine cellular lifespan. Researchers found that the more omega-3s coronary heart disease patients consumed, the slower their cells aged.
What to Take: 1,000-3,000 mg a day, or more with medical supervision.
Adding this natural, energy-boosting biochemical to other treatments for congestive heart failure improves quality of life, such as breathlessness, swollen legs, enlarged liver and insomnia. Taking CoQ10 along with blood-pressure lowering drugs improves their effectiveness and may allow you to reduce dosages. Taking CoQ10 after a heart attack significantly lowers your risk of another heart attack. CoQ10 helps to reduce muscle-related pain and weakness that are side effects of statin drugs.
What to Take: 100-300 mg a day, in divided doses.
3. Red Yeast Rice
Like statin drugs, red yeast rice reduces cholesterol levels. It contains HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, the same active ingredient as statin drugs such as lovastatin, red yeast also contains sterols, isoflavones and monounsaturated fatty acids, all ingredients that provide additional heart protection.
What to Take: 600 mg twice a day or 1,200 mg once a day. It can take 8-12 weeks to see full results. It’s best to take under medical supervision, and to have your liver function checked regularly. Note: Like statin drugs, red yeast rice can deplete CoQ10 levels in the body. Therefore, at least 200 mg of CoQ10 should be taken concurrently with red yeast rice to ensure optimal cardiovascular health.
4. Vitamin D
Low levels have been linked to significantly increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease including heart attacks, stroke and heart failure. People with low vitamin D levels are more likely to have the risk factors that cause heart disease: type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Vitamin D also affects how well your body absorbs two minerals important for a healthy heart: calcium and magnesium.
What to Take: 1,000-2,000 IU a day, or even more with medical supervision, may be needed.
Research has shown that resveratrol, the compound known to be the secret behind red wine’s heart health benefits, affects age-related gene expression changes in heart tissue. Like calorie restriction, resveratrol switches the body’s biochemical pathways towards tissue maintenance, which confers an advantage when the body is under the effects of stress. (Resveratrol is produced in plants when they are under stress.) This unique effect has been found to protect cardiovascular health and extend life by cutting down on the degenerative diseases of aging.
What to Take: At least 400 mg of standardized trans-resveratrol daily.
6. B Vitamins
The combination of folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 reduces harmful homocysteine levels. A recent double-blind placebo-controlled study at the University of Southern California found that these three B vitamins reduced the progression of early subclinical atherosclerosis, as measured by thickness of the carotid artery in the neck, even in people at low risk for cardiovascular disease.
Niacin, another B vitamin, is prescribed in large doses (500 mg or more a day) for treating high cholesterol. It acts on high cholesterol differently than statin drugs and is a first choice for people who need to increase their HDL.
What to Take: 500 mcg of folic acid, 400 mcg of B12, and 50 mg of B6. About 50 mg of niacin daily can modestly increase HDL cholesterol. For the higher doses you need to reduce total cholesterol (500-3,000 mg a day), medical supervision is advised. Niacin can cause flushing, itching, and sometimes liver problems when taken in large doses.
These plant compounds help to reduce cholesterol by competing for absorption in the intestines. They can reduce total and LDL cholesterol by 10-15%. They can be used along with statins or a cholesterol-lowering diet, and are often added to vegetable oil spreads or other “functional” foods.
What to Take: For phytosterols, take at least 300 mg per day, divided and taken before meals.
8. Vitamin E
When you’re taking the right kind of vitamin E—natural, full-spectrum—it can be a big benefit to your heart. It helps prevent blood platelets from sticking together, a big factor in blood clotting; stop oxidation of LDL cholesterol, a factor in hardening of the arteries; lower blood pressure by promoting production of blood vessel-relaxing nitric oxide, and inhibit cholesterol production in the liver.
What to Take: 400 IU of alpha-tocopherol and mixed tocopherols, along with 400 mg of mixed tocotrienols. If you’re on blood-thinning medications, such as Coumadin, ask your doctor about the safest way to add vitamin E to your regimen.
Garlic extract can preserve elasticity in blood vessels and slow the development of atherosclerosis. It can modestly reduce blood pressure and high cholesterol.
What to Take: 600 to 1,200 mg a day, in divided doses.
These compounds, found in berries, green tea, red wine, chocolate, nuts, onions, apples and citrus fruits, have a wide range of heart health benefits. They reduce the inflammation associated with heart disease, improve the ability of blood vessels to relax, strengthen capillaries and act as powerful antioxidants. They’re a must in your daily diet if you want to keep your heart healthy.
What to Take: Some of the best supplemental sources of flavonoids are extracts of green tea, açai and goji berry, pomegranate, blueberry, bilberry and cranberry. Quercetin and grape seed extract are also great flavonoid supplements. It’s best to take a mix.