Supplements May Have Negative Affect on Heart Health

RRH cardiologist says vitamins and supplements should only be used for any deficiencies

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Maintaining heart health is vital for healthy longevity.

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, topping nearly 100,000 more deaths annually than all forms of cancer combined.

It may seem that turning to supplements can help boost heart health.

Gaurav Sharma is cardiology and clinical lipidology at Sands Constellation Heart Institute, part of Rochester Regional Health.
Gaurav Sharma is cardiology and clinical lipidology at Sands Constellation Heart Institute, part of Rochester Regional Health.

Not quite, according to Gaurav Sharma, cardiology and clinical lipidology at Sands Constellation Heart Institute, part of Rochester Regional Health.

“It is best to maintain optimal heart health by following a healthy, well-balanced diet with routine moderate physical activity and with the help of medications only as needed and as prescribed by your health care providers,” Sharma said. “For the most part, vitamins and supplements should only be used for any deficiencies and when advised to do so by your physician.”

Supplements are not FDA regulated, so their efficacy in promoting health can be hard to consumers to judge.

Omega-3 supplements are often touted as helpful for promoting heart health. Sharma cited research that they could increase risk of a heart arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation.

“However, there is a prescription form of omega-3 supplement, Vascepa, which is purer and has shown a cardiovascular benefit, but only in certain patient populations,” he added.

He cautions patients interested in other over-the-counter supplements such as St. John’s wort, ginkgo biloba and ginseng that these can interact with prescription medications and lead to elevated heart rate and blood pressure.

“Licorice can itself raise blood pressure and arginine can cause dangerously low blood pressure, especially for those on certain heart related medications,” Sharma said.

Many people rely on energy shots and drinks to power through their day. While many consumers think of these as pick-me-up beverages on par with coffee, they are classified as supplements because the beverages are fortified. They also contain a wallop of caffeine.

“Caffeine supplements can exacerbate heart arrhythmias and raise blood pressure as well in some people, especially those with underlying heart health issues,” Sharma said. “Beyond these, there are many other supplements that could potentially have adverse effects on your heart health. As a general principle, it is best to discuss with your health care providers prior to starting any over-the-counter vitamins or supplements.”

Marge Pickering-Picone, health and nutrition coach and owner of Professional Nutrition Services in Webster, takes a holistic approach to supporting good health. She guides clients in filling in any nutritional gaps in their diet with supplementation while they continue to take any medication that their doctor prescribes.

“Electrolytes are the main thing your heart runs on,” Pickering-Picone said. “If the electrolyte balance is OK, your blood pressure will be better.”

She also said that the proper levels of magnesium, amino acids, coenzymeQ10 and taurine support heart health.

“Some people swear by vitamin E but it can also be a blood thinner,” she warned.

Of course, that would be contraindicated for people who take blood thinning medication, among other possible bad interactions.

“Hawthorn can help reduce blood pressure and improve circulation,” Pickering-Picone said.

She encourages clients to take control of their overall health to promote heart health. Since every system and organ of the body is interconnected, improving health of all the body systems will only help promote heart health.

She shares her list of supplements with her doctor and encourages clients to talk with their providers about their supplements and medications. Pharmacists can often answer questions about supplements as well.

Neal Holtzman, founder of Pomegranate Health in Rochester, said that his company’s CardioPom “supports a healthy heart and cardiovascular system. It is a standardized dietary supplement made entirely from the pomegranate fruit.”

Pomegranate is a source of potassium, copper and manganese. Potassium has been identified as helpful in regulating blood pressure and reducing risk of heart attack and stroke.

People supplementing with calcium should be careful to discuss its implications with their healthcare providers. A study publicized in the April 2021 issue of the journal Circulation indicates that patients who do not have heart disease but who have high levels of calcium in their heart’s arteries have a much higher likelihood of heart attack, stroke or other cardio events. The findings corroborate with a 10-year study publicized in 2016 by Johns Hopkins Medicine, which concludes “taking calcium in the form of supplements may raise the risk of plaque buildup in arteries and heart damage, although a diet high in calcium-rich foods appears be protective.”

Overall, it is important to eat a healthful diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein and whole grains and discuss supplementation with a healthcare professional.