Supplements Affect Heart Health

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, according to Julie Mellen registered dietitian, certified diabetes care and education specialist at SUNY Upstate Medical University.

“I go back to heart-healthy eating and trying not to recommend too many supplements unless there’s a need for it,” Mellen said.

For any supplements needed, it is important to not shop solely on price.

“Make sure you are taking quality supplements, as it’s not regulated by the FDA,” Mellen said. “People making them don’t have to prove any health benefits.”

Many people rely on energy shots and drinks to power through their day and feel more energetic to exercise. Many of these contain herbs, vitamins and minerals. While many consumers think of these as pick-me-up beverages on par with coffee, they are classified as supplements and not foods because the beverages are fortified. They also contain a wallop of caffeine.

“Anything that has caffeine or things that affect heart rate, I don’t recommend,” Mellen said. “As for vitamins and minerals, a lot of research isn’t showing any benefits as far as protection from cardiovascular disease. You don’t need supplements unless you are deficient.”

The extraordinary amount of supplements found in some energy shots and drinks are far beyond a typical level of consumption and have been known to create irregular or racing heartrates.

The drinks have been linked to and cited as the cause of cardiovascular events.
Many people take vitamin D and calcium to promote bone health. Too much of these may have unintended consequences.

“Some research says if you’re taking too much vitamin D and calcium, it can negatively affect cardiovascular health,” Mellen said.

Laurel Sterling, registered dietitian and nutritionist and educator for Carlson Laboratories, said that how these supplements are taken makes a difference.

“Calcium needs all those ‘helper minerals’ and vitamins D and K for absorption,” she said. “It’s a complicated process. If you don’t have those, calcium will lie along blood vessels and arteries and start hardening them, which leads to hardening of the arteries. We want the calcium to go into the bone structure, which is why you need vitamin D, vitamin K, magnesium and boron to help with pulling calcium to where it should go, the bones.”

Many supplements include the ‘helper minerals’ in a calcium formulation; however, reading the label is important.

Sterling said that people taking medication like a blood thinner should be careful about supplements as some have a propensity for thinning the blood and can heighten the effect.

“Consult with your doctor,” Sterling said. “Supplements do work like medications in certain aspects. They can contraindicate or exacerbate what medication you’re taking.”

Over-the-counter supplements such as St. John’s wort, ginkgo biloba and ginseng can interact with prescription medications and lead to elevated heart rate and blood pressure. For people who already have issues in these areas, supplements such as these can lead to serious complications.

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.