Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Choosing the Right Supplement for Your Heart

Do you, or anyone you know, take a supplement or consume some type of functional food for your heart? If so, this post is a must read! My favorite magazine, Today's Dietitian, printed an article in their August edition, which focused on the effectiveness and safety of heart supplements and functional food ingredients. Here are some important highlights from their article;

Plant Sterols and Stanols

- Found naturally in the walls of plants and cell membranes.

- Compete for the same binding sites as cholesterol in the GI tract, therefore they are said to inhibit excessive cholesterol absorption.

- It is recommended to consume 2 grams per day, and no more than 3 grams, in order to reduce LDL cholesterol by as much as 15%.

- While studies have shown they work for LDL reduction, no studies have shown they successfully reduce risk of cardiovascular events.

- Foods like orange juice, chocolate, and breads are poor carriers, so don't waste your money on those types of products. Dairy, mayo, dressings, and margarines are the best carriers.

Fish Oil (EPA/DHA)

- Recommended by the American Heart Association for patients with documented heart disease or high triglycerides.

- Consuming fish oil may help reduce triglycerides by 20% to 30%. Studies have also shown fish oil may help lower blood pressure, slightly increase HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), and reduce whole body inflammation (a consequence of smoking, unhealthy eating habits, environment, strenuous exercise, etc).

- 2 to 4 grams of fish oil (EPA/DHA) per day is the typical dose for therapeutic means (4 gram doses should only be taken under the care of a physician).

- While fish oil may help lower triglycerides, there is still more research needed to determine whether it can help reduce cardiac events.

- Those without documented heart disease or high triglycerides can support good health by consuming fish twice a week or by taking a fish oil supplement with .5-1 grams EPA/DHA.

- When buying a supplement make sure they have indicated how many milligrams of EPA and DHA are in each dose. Some companies simply write, "1000 mg Fish Oil", but this is not enough information (fish oil contains more than just EPA/DHA). They should also disclose the exact amount of EPA/DHA, since this is what is most important for heart health. Unfortunately, even if they disclose this information it still may not be true, because supplements aren't regulated. Always look for the USP, GMP, or NSF symbol to know whether you're getting what you pay for.

Red Yeast Rice

- Red yeast rice is a yeast grown on fermented rice (sounds....interesting...). It is common in certain Asian foods, such as Peking Duck.

- It is sometimes referred to as "Nature's Statin" because it has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol by 20% to 50%.

- It works by blocking a key enzyme that is necessary to make endogenous (made in the body) cholesterol. It may also contain other key ingredients such as monounsaturated fats, isoflavanoids, and sterols, which may also add to the cholesterol lowering effect.

- The amount recommended is about 1200mg/day, taken in two doses (600 mg at one time, then another 600mg later in the day).

- Be careful when buying over the counter products because many products have been shown to lack significant amounts of the ingredient. Similar to what I said above, always look for the USP, GMP, or NSF symbol on your supplements.

- Keep in mind that the side-effects of Red Yeast Rice may be very similar to statins. Talk to your doctor before starting this supplement.

Pomegranate Juice

- Claims for this product indicate it may be able to "decrease hardening of the arteries".
- The polyphenols in pomegranate juice are believed to reduce the production of plaque in arteries and may even reduce the production of cholesterol in the liver.

- Research indicates that the juice has the most significant effect on those with severe plaque and/or severe oxidative stress. Healthier individuals see insignificant effects.

- Those on blood pressure medications need to be very cautious because pomegranate juice may potentiate its effect (in other words, it may make it work even better, thus potentially causing dangerously low blood pressure).

- Be weary of some products on the market, as many appear to be of inconsistent quality (even those labeled as 100% juice). Those made with the outer layers and peel are less effective.

QUESTION: What have you done for your heart lately?

I take a fish oil pill everyday, with .5 grams of EPA/DHA combined (the dosage is 1 gram, but I only take half because I'm pretty healthy, no need to waste my money!). I also eat plenty of fiber, do 4-5 days of cardio a week, eat lots of fruits and veggies, and of course I try to relax and stay stress-free (this is the hardest one for me!).


  1. Great article, girl!

    I'm a fish oil girl, too.

    I also work my heart muscle in the gym and fuel on a relatively clean diet.

  2. great info! I need to translate it and pass it to my parents! :)

    I eat healthy and workout 4-5 times a week. I need to work on staying stress free yet ;)

  3. Interesting! My family has a history of heart problems, so I'm especially aware of eating healthy and exercising because of that. I also take a fish oil supplement...when I remember :-)

  4. Read your blog...
    Always makes me feel a bit healthier
    That, and my 5 mile run this am...
    and I also take a daily fish oil.

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  6. i eaaat enough fish to keep my heart going strong for a laaaaaaawng time! hopefully haha plus tjs blueberry flaxseed is my new amazing delicious addiction :)

  7. I take fish oil daily as recommended by my allergy doctor. I'm allergic to mold, and she informed me that this would help with inflammation due to mold in my body. I'm also a pom fan, but mainly for its taste rather than its health benefits.

  8. I really need to start taking fish oil. They are sitting on my counter but I never take them!

  9. always love your posts! Informative, concise, and to the point. I am a big fan of fish oil and take 1g/day when I can remember to take the second :) I do cycle for my heart, but I'm wondering what is that point where exercise becomes more oxidatively stressful than beneficial? I need to look into those recs for athletes. I definitely need to work on the stress part too :)

  10. ahh, the stress one is really hard for me, too!

    i learned about phytosterols/stanols when i was working with mark, and i'm guessing that dairy and oil are better carriers because phytosterols are fat soluble?

  11. After hearing so much crap about margarine...I was surprised to see it in the list! Does Brummel & Brown count? I love that one.

  12. ohh I made a t(ofu)lt sammie and used real mayo! does that count? lol

  13. I'm not very good about taking supplements, but I feel pretty healthy without them so I don't worry too much. Exercise is my number one way I help my heart.

    Great article!

  14. Great topic! My grandmother uses red yeast rice and it seems to help, but who knows since it could be a combo of things. I like eating produce and getting a diet high in fiber, along with fish for my heart health. Oh, and the occasion glass of wine...but shh, I usually go with white wine!

    Sorry if I made a double post but I got an error after I sent the last one.

  15. I take fish oil supplements, especially since I don't eat a lot of fish.
    I also try to exercise at least 4 days a week and eat lots of fruits and veggies.
    I haven't heard a lot about red yeast rice, thanks for sharing.

  16. I can't help but think that people are going to use something like "I'm doing it for my heart" as an EXCUSE to eat foods like butter. Yes, a little bit is definitely healthy for us, but putting gobs of butter on everything we eat isn't going to be very healthy - and I bet that there are lots of consumers who will think that they really are doing something good for their health.

  17. Awesome summary of the article! I eat plenty of fruits and veggies and do cardio for my heart health. Like you, staying stress-free is hardest for me!

  18. At the moment I'm not taking fish oil, but I have a habit of adding flax seed oil to my smoothies.

    I wonder if it's as "effective" as fish oil...or better?

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