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Why Small Changes Are Better for Your Heart than Supplements

February 08, 2021

The allure of a quick fix is powerful. But when it comes to heart health, fast and easy seldom are the winning combination. Take supplements, for example. Even those labeled “heart healthy” may not offer much protection from heart disease and some actually can contain ingredients that are dangerous.

Instead, look to eating better and exercising more as your keys to a healthier heart. By keeping your goals small and realistic, you’re more likely to increase your chances of sticking to them. 

What do achievable goals look like? Envision making one or two small changes a week, such as:

  • Substituting a piece of fruit for a bag of chips

  • Adding in a vegetable with dinner

  • Cutting out a piece of bread

  • Fitting 30 to 60 minutes of exercise into your daily routine 

These small changes add up and are a sustainable way to achieve your heart-health goals.

How Much Exercise Is Enough?

Exercise plays an important role in cardiovascular health, a recent study from the University of Oxford showed. The study followed more than 90,000 people over a five-year period and found that those in the top 25 percent who engaged in vigorous activity reduced their heart disease risk by 54 percent to 63 percent. Research found that every move counts toward improving heart health, and the lowest risk for heart disease was found in those who exercised the most.

But not everyone wants – or is able – to exercise at a high intensity. Think about small steps and what you could add. Maybe you already take a daily walk. Could you add some jumping jacks in the middle to break a sweat? 

Exercise alone isn’t enough.  A healthy diet also helps significantly lower risks of cardiovascular disease, including both coronary heart disease and stroke. A healthy diet includes:

  • High-fiber foods, including beans, lentils and whole grains

  • Foods with a low glycemic index, such as green vegetables, apples, oranges, raw carrots, chickpeas and lentils 

  • Monounsaturated fat rather than trans fatty acids or saturated fats

Before Adding Supplements, Ask Your Doctor

Exercising daily, not smoking, limiting alcohol and eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy oils and lean meats can reduce your risk of heart disease. But what about vitamins and supplements?

Research has shown that supplements don’t protect you from heart disease. And getting too much of certain ingredients may be dangerous — so don't take a supplement just because it’s labeled as "heart healthy." Before you try anything on your own, ask your doctor which product is most likely to help.

Popular heart-health supplements include:

  • Multivitamins

  • Fiber — may help decrease LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol

  • Omega-3 fatty acid — may lower triglycerides in your blood and improve blood pressure

  • Green tea — may lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and raise HDL levels

  • Coenzyme Q10 — may help lower blood pressure and aid in relieving statin induced muscle pain

  • Magnesium

  • Garlic — can lower blood pressure

Trying to treat a serious health condition on your own with over-the-counter supplements is risky. Your doctor and care team can help work with you on what supplements, if any, would be

beneficial to add to your diet. 

What Is Choline and Is it Harmful? 

One ingredient that can especially harm the heart is choline. Consuming too much choline — a nutrient in meat, eggs and milk — raises levels of a bacteria-produced compound called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). Elevated blood levels of TMAO have been linked to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and even death. Research shows that TMAO may directly contribute to the narrowing of artery walls through plaque build-up.

Higher blood levels of TMAO are associated with a greater risk of heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes. Recent studies showed that feeding animals choline-supplemented diets also raised their risk of clotting.

Heart-healthy living requires significantly prioritizing your health with diet and exercise. Lots of these changes require help and guidance. If you have questions, seek the help of your primary care doctor, cardiologist and nutritional counselor.

 

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