Holistic Health: Fighting Heart Disease with Supplements and Vitamins

Robert Bulgarelli, DO
Cardiologist, Lankenau Heart Group
Director of Integrative Cardiovascular Medicine – Main Line Health System

More physicians advocate an Integrative approach to preventing and treating both acute and chronic disease. Integrative Medicine incorporates complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices (largely originating in the East) into Western Medicine—viewing disease as an imbalance of the whole—with the goal of treating the whole person. You can learn more about this practice at Dr. Bulgarelli’s web chat on May 29: Body, Mind & Spirit: Treating Your Heart Holistically.

CAM includes a broad range of products, practices and therapies designed to boost a person’s quality of life and well-being, at times working in synergy with, or as alternatives to Western Medicine – or in some cases to protect against the side effects.
People diagnosed with heart disease, for example, or taking measures to prevent it may take supplements and vitamins to boost heart health. Certain supplements and vitamins have been shown to lower cholesterol and help reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke, including:

  • Among the most widely touted are omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce triglyceride levels and increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels, helping to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension, reduce the risk of having another heart attack, and prevent heart rhythm disturbances. These essential fatty acids are vital to the body and are found in plant and fish oils. Most doctors recommend incorporating one rich source of omega-3 fatty acids into your diet a day—which could include a serving of salmon, handful of walnuts, or a tablespoon of canola oil. You may also take a fish oil supplement of 3000-4000 mg per day. (Flaxseed is also a source of omegas but primarily omega-6 free fatty acids, which can actually worsen inflammation. Flax is, however, an excellent source of fiber, which is important in a healthy diet.)
  • Plant sterols/stanols—found in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and legumes—have been shown in studies to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol by preventing its absorption in the small intestines without lowering HDL (good) cholesterol levels. They’re also a good complement to the class of cholesterol-lowering medications known as statins. Powdered plant sterols can help you get the recommended 2 grams you need a day, or you can take a 2,000 mg supplement.
  • For years, niacin (vitamin B) was recommended by doctors to raise HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and it is often prescribed with statins. For years — and very recently in a study from Oxford University — niacin has come under scrutiny regarding its efficacy and safety. I imagine the story is not over yet!

Other supplements and vitamins that promote heart health include: fiber, red yeast rice, green tea extract, B-complex vitamins, coenzyme Q10, hawthorne, horse chestnut, carnitine, arginine and policosanol. Always discuss with your doctor before starting a supplement regimen, to make sure it’s the right approach for you and to minimize the risk of interaction with your medications.

Join Dr. Bulgarelli live on Lankenau’s Wednesday Web Chat, May 29 at 7 p.m.: Body, Mind & Spirit: Treating Your Heart Holistically. Sign up now.

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