If you’ve been holding off on taking prescription medication in hopes that a supplement will lower your cholesterol, you may want to reconsider.
A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that six dietary supplements commonly marketed for improving heart health (fish oil, garlic, cinnamon, turmeric, plant sterols and red yeast rice) did not lower levels of so-called “bad cholesterol” (or LDL) when compared to a placebo or a low-dose cholesterol-lowering medication. And, in fact, the medication, known as a statin, was significantly more effective at lowering cholesterol than the supplements studied.
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Still, study senior author Steven Nissen, M.D., says he “constantly” sees patients turning to supplements to lower their cholesterol and better their health.
“I would say the majority of the patients that come to see me are taking one or more dietary supplements, some of them are taking as many as six to eight dietary supplements,” says Nissen, chief academic officer of the Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute at Cleveland Clinic. “And the vast majority of them, almost all of them, have no evidence for any favorable effect on human health.”
Misinformation impacts statin use
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that circulates in the blood. It’s often talked about as a health hazard, but it’s not all bad — especially in its natural state. The body makes what it needs and uses it to build cells and make vitamins and other hormones. Cholesterol also comes from foods; and having too much of it can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and lead to heart attack and stroke, the American Heart Association explains.
Nearly 94 million Americans ages 20 and older have high cholesterol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cutting back on saturated fats (commonly found in animal products like beef, pork, butter and cheese), as well as trans fats (frequently found in processed cakes, cookies and pizzas) can lower cholesterol levels; so can increasing physical activity and losing weight. And when lifestyle changes don’t work, medication can help. Still, the CDC reports about half of people who could benefit from cholesterol medicine aren’t taking it.