There’s no question that an ‘unhealthy diet‘ can contribute to your risk of atherosclerosis or building plaques in your arteries. These plaques can result in fatal outcomes such as heart attacks or strokes or the potentially debilitating peripheral artery disease. A recent review article was published in the journal, Cardiovascular Therapeutics, which summarizes much of the recent research on dietary supplements that may be helpful or harmful for reducing cardiovascular risk.
What are nutraceuticals?
Nutraceutical is a term for food-derived substances that exert healthy benefits. Most people commonly refer to nutraceuticals as dietary supplements.
Which nutraceuticals are effective at reducing cardiovascular mortality?
Oxidative stress is one mechanism that promotes atherosclerosis. Consequently, it was once thought that taking antioxidant vitamins (Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Beta-carotene) might be a simple solution to decrease vascular oxidative stress. Deficiencies of these vitamins can contribute to cardiovascular risk, but does supplementation actually reduce your risk?
Here’s a brief summary from this recent publication:
Vitamins A, E
Supplementation with Vitamins A or E doesn’t reduce your risk of cardiovascular mortality and may actually increase it
Vitamin C, Selenium
Supplementation with Vitamin C or Selenium hasn’t been shown to reduce cardiovascular mortality in studies.
Supplementation may exert a small effect on lowering blood pressure. Also shown to have favorable effects on vasculature. Lower doses (200 IU/d) were not effective at reducing cardiovascular disease in post-menopausal women.
“The VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL (VITAL), a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, will enroll 20,000 participants throughout the entire United States to determine whether a higher dose of vitamin D (about 2000 IU daily) and marine omega-3 fatty acids supplements will prevent colorectal, breast, prostate, and other cancers, as well as heart disease and stroke (http://www.vitalstudy.org/”
Omega-3 fish oil
Fish intake is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Dietary sources are preferable.
Vitamin B6/12 and Folic Acid
Low levels of vitamin B6 are associated with risk of cardiovascular events and stroke. Studies of folic acid supplementation have shown short-term benefits on improving endothelial function. Long-term studies of b vitamins or folic acid have not shown beneficial effects for preventing cardiovascular events.
Flavinoids are found in fruits, vegetables, and beverages such as tea, wine, and cocoa. Studies on diets with a low intake of flavinoids are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular mortality. Tea consumption decreases risk of cardiovascular events in many studies. However, adding milk to tea may negate its antioxidant potential.
Red wine and resveratrol
Studies indicate an inverse association between light-to-moderate wine consumption and cardiovascular risk. Red wine, in particular, has a higher content of polyphenols with resveratrol in particular being important. Resveratrol has been shown to have short-term benefits on the vascular system. The “French Paradox” is based on the observation that people in France have a relatively lower incidence of coronary heart disease despite the French diet being high in saturated fats. The regular drinking of red wine is one proposed explanation for “the French Paradox.”
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Niacin has beneficial effects on raising HDL cholesterol (“good cholesterol”). Today, it’s more considered as a drug and used in extended release formulations.
Nutraceuticals and prevention of atherosclerosis: focus on omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and Mediterranean diet polyphenols. Cardiovasc Ther. 2010 Aug;28(4):e13-9.