Check with your health care provider to see what’s right for you
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Maintaining heart health is vital for healthy longevity.
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, topping nearly 100,000 more deaths annually than all forms of cancer combined.
It may seem that turning to supplements can help boost heart health.
Not quite, says Mary Jo Parker, registered dietitian in private practice in Williamsville.
“Some herbals can cause heart palpitations and higher blood pressure,” Parker said, citing ginseng, bitter orange, licorice, caffeine, yohimbe, energy-boosting supplements, as examples.
Many people rely on energy shots and drinks to power through their day. While many consumers think of these as pick-me-up beverages on par with coffee, they are classified as supplements because the beverages are fortified. They also contain a wallop of caffeine.
Parker said that some of those ingredients can interact with medication and that taking too much of any one supplement can also cause problems as it can cause a mismatch of nutrients.
“The optimal amount is somewhere in the middle and the symptoms that come from deficiency mirror those that come from excess,” Parker said. “Too much of a good thing is not a good thing.
There is a sweet spot and optimal levels for everything. The research is in its infancy where we go with personalizing this stuff.”
For example, garlic, whether as a supplement or the food, can negatively affect someone taking blood thinners or cholesterol lowering drugs since garlic does both of those naturally.
“It’s important that people are careful, especially those on hard medication, to talk with someone who would know about possible interactions,” Parker said. “Sometimes, a registered dietitian nutritionist would know or should be able to find out. Sometimes the pharmacy can be a help or doctors. It depends on how well researched they are. You can check stuff out yourself, too. Do due diligence, especially if you’re on medication or if you have certain conditions.”
Erica Smolinski, registered and certified dietitian nutritionist with Buffalo Nutrition & Dietetics, PLLC in Orchard Park, focuses on food as the best sources of nutrients for a healthy heart and supplements secondarily.
“For those with specific health concerns such as high blood fats (triglycerides), supplementation with fish oil, an excellent source of omega-3 fats, may be recommended to help bring blood fats into a normal range,” she said. “Beets are rich in heart healthy phytonutrients. Tomatoes, especially cooked tomatoes, are excellent sources of lycopene, a free radical-quenching carotenoid. They also contain other heart-protective carotenoids like ß-carotene and tocopherol.
“Blueberries are packed with healthy phytonutrients for the heart and blood vessels. Studies show that the flavonoid anthocyanin in blueberries helps to keep blood vessels open and even lower heart attack risk.”
While red meat is typically discouraged for its effect on heart health, eating more fish is excellent for cardiovascular health. Smolinski recommended one to two servings a week minimum, especially for varieties like wild salmon, as it can reduce risk for coronary death by 36%.
“People with heart disease who incorporate more extra virgin olive oil in their diet demonstrate improvement in the ability of their blood vessels to expand along with a reduction in inflammation,” she said.
Beverages also matter. Consuming green and black tea has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke by 10% to 20%.
“Three cups per day appears to provide the most benefit in blood pressure lowering and reducing cardiovascular risk overall,” Smolinski said.
Decaffeinated varieties are available.
People supplementing with calcium should be careful to discuss its implications with their healthcare providers. A study publicized in the April 2021 issue of Circulation indicates that patients who do not have heart disease but who have high levels of calcium in their heart’s arteries have a much higher likelihood of heart attack, stroke or other cardio events. The findings corroborate with a 10-year study publicized in 2016 by Johns Hopkins Medicine, which concludes “taking calcium in the form of supplements may raise the risk of plaque buildup in arteries and heart damage, although a diet high in calcium-rich foods appears be protective.”
Overall, it is important to eat a healthful diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein and whole grains and discuss supplementation with a healthcare professional.