- Despite the popularity of dietary supplements, research shows no confirmed evidence that they offer protection against heart disease.
- One potential exception to this is supplements containing folic acid, which research suggests may reduce stroke risk. However, the effects may not be as pronounced where folic acid is already a regular part of the diet.
- The recommended approach is adhering to a healthy, primarily plant-based diet rather than relying on supplements.
- There is scientific evidence to suggest that certain diet patterns, such as a Mediterranean diet, a vegetarian diet, or a “healthy American” diet, can reduce the risks of heart disease and stroke.
- Clinical trials have shown that popular supplements like multivitamins, vitamin C and D, beta-carotene, and calcium do not consistently affect the risk of cardiovascular complications. Some other supplements have even been associated with a slightly higher risk of mortality.
When it comes to safeguarding against heart disease, evidence suggests that dietary supplements comprising of vitamins and minerals might not be as beneficial as they are believed to be, according to recent research studies.
The research primarily confirms a previously known fact: despite their popularity, there seems to be no concrete evidence that dietary supplements offer protection against heart disease.
Folic Acid Supplements: A Potential Exception
Interestingly, research found one exception to this theory. A recent study conducted in China found that supplements containing folic acid contributed to a reduction in stroke risk among the participants.
However, it remains unclear whether these benefits would be replicated in locations where folic acid is already added to grain products, ensuring people generally maintain adequate levels of this B vitamin found in an array of foods like leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans, peas, and nuts.
The Importance of a Healthy, Balanced Diet
So, the question remains: what’s the best practice? According to Dr. David Jenkins, who led the research review, the answer is evidently simple: adhere to a healthy diet and don’t solely rely on supplements.
“A mostly plant-based diet offers significant health benefits,” stated Jenkins, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto. “In my opinion, that should be the primary approach.”
Dr. Andrew Freeman, a cardiologist uninvolved with the research, agreed with this perspective. “By eating a healthy diet abundant in plant-based foods, you’re likely to receive all the nutrients you need without requiring supplements,” Freeman added.
The Effectiveness of a Plant-Based Diet
Furthermore, it’s important to note that there’s scientific evidence supporting the fact that sticking to certain diet patterns can reduce the risks of heart disease and stroke.
The latest version of U.S. dietary guidelines highlights three diet patterns that promote cardiovascular health: the conventional Mediterranean diet; a vegetarian diet; and the so-called “healthy American” diet, which is low in red meat and heavily saturated with fruits and vegetables.
Common factors in these diets are an emphasis on plant-based food and restrictions on red meat and sugar consumption. They encourage the intake of fiber-rich grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish (within non-vegetarian diets), and “good” unsaturated fats from sources like olive oil.
Understanding the Role of Supplements
Regarding supplements, Jenkins noted that typically popular supplements – including multivitamins, vitamins C and D, beta-carotene, and calcium – yielded no significant results in clinical trials.
Clinical testing has revealed that these supplements do not consistently affect the risks associated with heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular complications.
Contrary to this, trials have exposed potential dangers linked with certain other supplements. A review of 21 trials of antioxidant mixtures showed participants had a slightly higher risk of mortality during the study period. This was also observed across several trials testing the B vitamin niacin.
In stark contrast, there is evidence outlining that folic acid supplements could potentially reduce stroke risk — a finding from a 2015 trial in China. This trial proposed that these supplements reduced stroke risk by around 20% among middle-aged and older adults.
However, the study was conducted in a region without folic acid supplementation in food. Therefore, if individuals already have an adequate amount in their diet, Freeman suggests that supplements might not be necessary.
The Complex Nature of Nutrients
Numerous studies have found that people who eat certain foods or nutrients have a lower risk of specific diseases. However, when supplements of that nutrient are tested, they fail to show similar benefits.
“When we extract the nutrient from its original food source, we neglect its complex nature,” Freeman explained. Hence, the crucial message is to focus on whole foods. But Freeman emphasized, “don’t just add vegetables to your cheeseburger, replace unhealthy foods with plant-based options.”
For advice on maintaining a heart-healthy diet, you can refer to resources provided by the American Heart Association here.