It is not yet clear whether taking vitamins can reduce the risk of heart disease or having a heart attack. But what is known is that there is no vitamin that can prevent the onset of heart disease if other risk factors, such as poor diet, smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes, are not controlled.
While previous studies have suggested that certain vitamins, such as vitamins C and E, may decrease the risk of heart disease, larger clinical trials have not shown benefit. However, a recent study indicated that vitamin E, if taken alone, can help prevent heart attacks. But the American Heart Association does not recommend taking any vitamins to prevent heart disease.
There is also evidence showing the link between low blood levels of vitamin D and heart disease, but more research is needed. Consult your doctor if you are concerned about your vitamin D level.
Most people who are generally in good health and get the nutrients they need from food do not need to take vitamins every day. Even a daily multivitamin doesn’t seem to help prevent heart disease. If you’re worried about your diet, ask your doctor if you can take vitamins every day.
Or, better yet, incorporate nutrient-rich foods into your diet, such as vegetables and fruits, vegetable or seed oils, whole grains, and at least two servings of fish per week, to help protect your heart.
What Other Foods Help With Preventing Heart Disease
According to the Comprehensive Natural Medication Data Base, the following supplements may bring benefits to the heart, with strong evidence, especially for the first, fish oil.
Fish Oil, a Source of Omega-3 Acids
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) appear to be most effective at lowering triglycerides, a lipid, or fat, in the blood that clogs arteries. They can also protect the heart by slightly raising high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, lowering blood pressure and reducing inflammation.
The American Heart Association states that people with heart disease should consume about one gram (1,000 milligrams) of omega-3 per day, an amount that usually requires taking a supplement. People with high triglyceride levels may need 2 to 4 grams per day of several pills or, possibly, a fish oil supplement in the strength of a prescription drug. Others should try to eat two or more servings of fatty fish per week that have high omega-3 concentrations (and relatively low mercury concentrations), such as wild salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Or they might consider fortified foods or fish oil pills.
Fish oil supplements are probably safe for most people when taken in doses of 3 grams or less per day, although they may interact with certain drugs, particularly anticoagulants. See a doctor first, especially if you take any medications regularly. Supplements can also cause side effects, such as upset stomach and bad breath. Keeping capsules in the freezer may lessen these effects. And remember to look for “USP Verified” products.
Plant Sterols and Stanols
These substances – naturally present in nuts, seeds, and whole grains – seem to reduce the amount of cholesterol the body absorbs from food. Manufacturers are now adding them to other foods, such as Benecol pasta. Both are also available as supplements and can lower LDL cholesterol. Some research suggests that a stanol, sitostanol, could lower LDL cholesterol by about 10% to 15% and perhaps increase the effectiveness of statins. Stanols and sterols can cause side effects, such as diarrhea, and a sterol, beta-sitosterol, has been associated with erectile dysfunction and loss of libido.