Shaun Ward MSc ANutr
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and every 1 in 4 deaths is a result of heart disease.
The main causes are poor lifestyle factors, including a poor diet and a lack of exercise.
In other words, it is preventable for the vast majority of people if healthy lifestyle habits are adopted throughout life.
To add to this, certain dietary supplements may also be able to prevent or treat heart disease by a few different methods.
1. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential to be consumed through the diet.
The main sources of omega-3’s are fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados.
Researchers have observed for many decades that populations with a high fish intake have much lower rates of heart disease compared to the general population - later linked primarily to omega-3 consumption.
One of the main benefits of omega 3 fatty acids is that they can improve lipid profiles in people with dyslipidemia (high triglycerides/cholesterol) by enhancing the clearance of triglycerides from circulating lipoproteins . Specifically, omega-3’s can lower triglyceride levels by 15-30% .
A multitude of studies provide substantial evidence that omega 3 fatty acids reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular diseases , doing so by their anti-triglyceridemic, antihypertensive, and antiarrhythmic action .
Omega-3 fatty acids can also reduce the synthesis of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol particles through the upregulation of enzymes such as lipoprotein lipase .
They can also reduce blood pressure levels in people that are suffering from high blood pressure .
They may also provide benefit through their enrichment into membrane phospholipids (cell walls), and stimulating vasodilatory and anti-inflammatory effects within the arteries . In lab and human studies, this has managed to lower the production of pro-inflammatory molecules such as interleukins and tumor necrosis factor .
In turn, this helps to reduce damage to arterial walls and thus prevent the chance of plaque development and arterial blockages which could possibly lead to heart attacks .
However, despite some reported beneficial effects on heart disease risk factors, it is important to note there is also contradicting data that suggests omega-3 supplements provide no benefit .
2. Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10 is a molecule that is naturally synthesized and is present in every cell in the body, with roles to assist the functioning of the mitochondria during energy production and to aid the bodies antioxidant system.
Interestingly, one of the tissues with the highest concentrations of coenzyme Q10 is in the heart.
Although supplementing with coenzyme Q10 has some evidence behind it suggesting that it may treat hypertension and congestive heart failure, its use has not been confirmed in randomized controlled human trials .
Researchers hypothesize that its ability to preserve nitric oxide may improve the function of blood vessels and subsequently reduce blood pressure.
Data showing that it also partially nullifies the damaging effects of excessive amounts of free radicals is also interesting , as this could prevent oxidative damage that is closely linked to many chronic diseases such as heart disease .
A couple of human studies also provide positive associations between coenzyme Q10 and the prevention of heart disease.
For example, in a study on over 400 people with heart failure, 2 years of supplementation with coenzyme Q10 for 2 years improved their symptoms and reduced risk of mortality .
A similar study supplemented over 600 people with coenzyme Q10 for over a year and found that it resulted in less heart complication events compared to a placebo group .
Astaxanthin is a carotenoid pigment that occurs in microalgae, yeast, and certain fish, with many structural similarities to beta-carotene.
It is claimed to be a substance with potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capabilities even when compared to beta-carotene. Doses of 6-8mg per day have been found to significantly reduce the oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and prevent it from forming part of atherosclerotic plaques and clogging arteries – a common component of heart disease.
The is the key reason why many other antioxidants like astaxanthin protect against arterial stiffening and heart disease .
This same antioxidative mechanism may also mean dietary supplementation with astaxanthin has the potential to provide antioxidant protection against molecular and cell damage . Animal studies provide positive findings for this, as supplementing with astaxanthin attenuates tissue inflammation  and significantly reduces blood pressure in as little as 14 days .
Astaxanthin could also prevent against heart disease by promoting better blood flow and effectively reduce blood pressure, with lab studies on human endothelial cells stating that astaxanthin can significantly increase nitric oxide release .
Unfortunately, science is yet to effectively study dietary astaxanthin in large human trials, however based on similar compounds such as dietary β-carotene, it is likely has a positive effect .
The one human trial we could find, astaxanthin supplementation in healthy individuals managed to partially treat oxidative stress, hyperlipidemia and inflammation .
Far more human evidence is needed to make conclusive statements on astaxanthin.
Garlic is a herb that is native to Siberia, and is closely related to foods such as onion, leeks, and chives.
It is believed that most of the health benefits from garlic are due to the sulfur compounds it contains, such as a one known as allicin.
Other potentially beneficial compounds within garlic are diallyl disulfide and s-allyl cysteine.
Garlic is said to intercept the damaging effects of free radicals and nitrogen species by upregulating antioxidant defences and reducing damage to biomolecules like DNA, lipids and proteins.
Sulfur compounds within garlic are now even classed as antioxidant phytochemicals that prevent oxidative damage.
In support, human studies have found garlic supplements significantly reduce blood pressure in those with high blood pressure , and 600–1,500mg per day of garlic extract may be just as effective as the drug atenolol over a 6 month period .
Garlic supplements also appear to reduce total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by 10-15%, which may contribute to the prevention of arterial plaque development that commonly leads to heart attacks .
Epidemiologic studies on many different populations also report an inverse correlation between garlic consumption and the progression of cardiovascular disease .
As an extra bonus, I think everyone will agree that garlic is a delicious addition to most meals!
Heart disease is the worlds biggest killer, and diet is the number 1 way to prevent its occurrence.
Reaching a healthy bodyweight and sticking to natural wholefoods is easily the best way to prevent or treat heart disease, but supplements can be an additional help.
The most proven supplements for heart disease are omega-3 fatty acids, coenzyme Q10, astaxanthin, and garlic.