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Cardiovascular disease and other heart-related health complications are the nation’s biggest silent killers. So if you’re looking to give your heart some much-needed support, you might be thinking about adding vitamins for heart health into your routine.
Unfortunately, not all heart vitamins are made equally.
Read on to learn more about the importance of maintaining your heart health and about the best vitamins for heart and circulation with plenty of scientific evidence to back them up (plus some of the vitamins that do not live up to their reputation).
An intro to heart health and the prevalence of chronic heart conditions
Your heart is a hugely important organ. It’s responsible for pumping blood throughout your entire body, which is crucial because your blood contains oxygen and other nutrients that all of your cells need for life! So when something happens to your heart that prevents the delivery of blood throughout your body, the consequences can be severe.
Unfortunately, heart disease is extremely common. In fact, according to the CDC, heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. This is true for both men and women and most racial and ethnic groups in the country!
Factors that can contribute to heart disease
There are a couple of biomarkers that you can keep an eye on if you want to assess your heart disease risk, like your cholesterol levels and your blood pressure.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance necessary for creating hormones and digesting fatty foods. Unfortunately, cholesterol can also build up in your arteries under certain conditions. When inflamed, it can harden into a plaque, which makes it much harder for your blood to pass by. In these cases, your heart has to work much harder to pump blood through those blocked arteries, which can raise your blood pressure to extremely high levels in a condition medically referred to as hypertension. This can put plenty of strain on your heart and is often linked to cardiovascular disease.
In addition, the presence of plaque can also be very dangerous since the plaque can rupture and create blood clots that completely block the passage of blood through your blood vessels. In the worst cases, these blood clots can lead to strokes or heart attacks.
It's also a good idea to monitor your blood pressure to assess your risk for heart conditions. Chronic high blood pressure can be extremely dangerous when left unchecked, but you may have it without even realizing it! High blood pressure often doesn't have any overt symptoms you can recognize, so getting it tested annually with a blood pressure cuff is a great idea.
What can cause you to develop a heart condition?
There are multiple factors that have been linked to heart conditions:
- Family history of heart conditions - Some people are genetically predisposed to developing heart disease.
- Aging - As you grow older, your risk of developing a heart condition increases.
- History of smoking - Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your heart. Research has found that smoking can damage the lining of your arteries, putting you at higher risk for heart problems.
- Elevated BMI - Obesity is thought to contribute to a variety of risk factors, like inflammation, that can increase your risk of developing a heart condition.
- Diets high in saturated and trans fats - The quality of your regular eating patterns can play a big role in your heart health. Studies have found that excessive consumption of saturated fats (which are most prevalent in animal-based foods) and trans fats (most commonly found in highly processed foods), can increase your heart disease risk.
Popular heart supplements
Because heart health is such a pressing public health issue, many heart vitamin supplements have entered the market.
It's important to note that taking vitamins for heart health isn't a great substitute for a healthy lifestyle. It's also worth noting that not all heart vitamins are made equally. Some may contain nutrients that are unnecessary and haven't been supported by evidence-based research. In the worst cases, some nutrients can be dangerous for your heart, especially at high doses or if you’re taking another medication that can interfere.
With that said, some of the best vitamins for heart and circulation have actually been supported by evidence-based research.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Time and time again, researchers have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can be a seriously useful heart health aid.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of three healthy fats that are thought to have anti-inflammatory effects on the body.* In particular, the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are believed to support heart health.*
Omega-3s are present in a variety of foods. When it comes to supplements, fish oil is one of the more popular options since they contain plenty of DHA and EPA. However, the production of fish oil is considered costly on the planet. In addition, not everyone can eat fish, like vegans and vegetarians.
So algae oil pills are a great alternative! Unlike most other vegan-friendly omega-3 options, algae oil pills contain ample DHA and EPA, the two most important omega-3s you want if you're looking to support your heart health.
Folic acid, or Vitamin B9, is another important vitamin that may impact your heart health and blood circulation.
It’s thought that folic acid may help with endothelial dysfunction, a kind of coronary artery disease in which your arteries narrow due to a lack of the gas nitric oxide. In normal circumstances, nitric oxide keeps your arteries open and allows for better blood circulation. In addition, a meta-analysis found that folic acid supplementation was associated with decreased instances of stroke among patients with cardiovascular disease.
Magnesium is a mineral that plays roles in a huge variety of chemical reactions in your body, including some associated with your heart health! Some researchers have found that a high magnesium intake is associated with lowered risk of many different factors of cardiovascular risk including diabetes, hypertension, and stroke, as well as overall lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
The “sunshine vitamin” is more than just a vitamin – it’s also a hormone! As it turns out, there’s some evidence that it may be an effective heart vitamin for some people.
While more research still needs to be done to understand the exact role that Vitamin D can play on your heart health, there is evidence that Vitamin D deficiencies may be linked to instances of high blood pressure. Furthermore, some studies have supported this idea by showing that Vitamin D supplementation helped lower blood pressure in people who had both a Vitamin D deficiency and pre-existing hypertension.
Supplements to avoid
When it comes to your heart health and multivitamins, “more” does not always mean “better.” If you’re concerned about your heart health, you may want to avoid these nutrients in your supplements and multivitamins.
Vitamin E is known to have powerful antioxidant effects, but this doesn't necessarily mean that you should add it to your supplement regimen in an effort to protect your heart. In fact, excess amounts of Vitamin E can be dangerous at high doses for people with heart conditions! A study that followed the effects of Vitamin E supplementation in patients at high risk of heart disease found that Vitamin E was linked to a higher risk for heart failure and related hospitalizations! Furthermore, they didn't find any significant benefits of taking Vitamin E in these cases.
So Vitamin E supplementation isn't worth it and can increase your risk in the worst cases. Instead, aim to get your Vitamin E fix from whole foods for a more moderate and beneficial dose.
Calcium is perhaps best known for its positive effects on bone health, especially among older adults who are more prone to weaker bones and bone disease. Unfortunately, there's also evidence that taking too much calcium may increase your risk of heart disease. A study published in the American Heart Association Journal found that very high calcium levels were associated with substantially higher risks for cardiovascular disease events than those with lower calcium levels.
Things to keep in mind
- Not all supplements are safe. As we've already covered, certain supplements can hurt your heart health more than help. The FDA does not regulate vitamins and supplements in the same way they regulate medicine. In addition, the dosage is another major issue since the difference between "good" and "bad" can sometimes come down to the dose you're receiving.
- Always talk to your doctor first! You should always check in with your doctor before adding any supplements to your diet, especially regarding your heart health. This is even more important if you're already taking other medications to avoid adverse interactions.
- Allergic reactions are possible. If you start experiencing any adverse reactions after taking a heart vitamin, discontinue use immediately and check in with your primary care physician.
- Side effects for some heart vitamins. Finally, vitamins and dietary supplements may also come with their share of side effects. For example, some people report gastrointestinal distress after using fish oil.
Other ways to improve your heart health
While certain heart vitamins and supplements can boost your nutrition intake, there's no good substitute for a healthy, wholesome diet! Make sure to fill your plate with plenty of fruits and vegetables that contain plant-based nutrients like antioxidants and fiber to help with cholesterol levels. In addition, minimizing your intake of saturated and trans fats can also do your heart a world of good.
Physical activity is another major factor that contributes to a healthy heart. The American Heart Association recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, to keep your heart and the rest of your body healthy.
Maintain a healthy weight.
If you’re overweight or obese, there’s evidence that losing just 5-10% of your body weight can lead to significant improvements in your cardiovascular disease risk.
Quit smoking (if applicable).
As we’ve already discussed, smoking can damage your arteries and increase your risk for a variety of heart disease factors. Consider using a pill or a patch to wean yourself away from smoking, or talk to an addiction specialist.
Be proactive about your heart health.
Even though heart conditions are a prevalent issue, they're still often overlooked until it's too late. High cholesterol and high blood pressure usually have no obvious symptoms. So unless you're doing your due diligence and checking in, you might have heart problems and not even realize it.
To be proactive, you can:
- Do some research into your family history to see how prevalent heart disease is, which can help you assess your own risk
- Get your blood pressure checked regularly to monitor for hypertension
- Get regular blood tests to check your lipid panel (which includes your HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides), especially if you're at higher risk for developing heart conditions.
The bottom line on vitamins for heart health
Your heart is hands down one of the most important organs in your body. There are certain factors, like your genetics and your age, that you don't have any control over. However, you can take a proactive approach by giving your body the nutrients and care it needs with the right combination of healthy eating, habits, and heart vitamins when necessary.