- Medication lowered “bad” cholesterol more than fish-oil supplements in a new study.
- Supplement use rose earlier in the pandemic, but studies indicate it doesn’t prevent heart disease.
- Statins successfully lowered LDL in the study, are safe overall, and come with few side effects.
Fish-oil supplements aren’t going to lower cholesterol better than prescription drugs, a new study from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found.
Cleveland Clinic researchers tested supplements like fish oil and turmeric against statins, a class of prescription drugs that lowers cholesterol, and a placebo to compare how much each substance lowered “bad” cholesterol.
“Bad” cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein, is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Excess LDL builds up in the blood-vessel walls and inhibits blood flow, which reduces or blocks the blood from giving the heart oxygen.
The study gave 190 adults with no history of cholesterol buildup in the artery walls — otherwise known as atherosclerosis — either statins, a placebo, or one of the following supplements: fish oil, cinnamon, garlic, turmeric, plant sterols, or red yeast rice.
After 28 days, researchers found people who took the prescription drug had a greater reduction in LDL compared with supplement and placebo users.
None of the dietary supplements decreased LDL significantly more than the placebo, researchers said.
More people are buying dietary supplements, but do they work?
The JACC study builds on a growing body of evidence indicating supplements don’t do much to help your health. An independent team of preventive-care experts said there wasn’t enough evidence to show vitamin A, vitamin E, or multivitamin supplements prevented heart disease or cancer.
Dr. Karol Watson, a coauthor of the JACC study and a codirector of the University of California, Los Angeles, Program in Preventive Cardiology, told CNN the doctors designed the study in part because their patients had opted for supplements over evidence-based medication to lower cholesterol.
Supplement use in the US rose sharply earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Food and Drug Administration does not require dietary-supplement makers to prove efficacy or establish safe doses before selling a product.
“We designed this study because many of us have had the same experience of trying to recommend evidence-based therapies that reduce cardiovascular risks to patients and then having them say, ‘No, thanks, I’ll just try this supplement,’” Watson told CNN.
There are few downsides to statins, which lower ‘bad’ cholesterol better than supplements
There are few downsides to taking cholesterol-lowering drugs. Statins block an enzyme in the liver from producing LDL and helps the liver remove LDL that’s already in your body. Statins can also raise the level of high-density-lipoprotein cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol that helps the body get rid of LDL.
Doctors prescribe statins to stroke or heart-attack patients, as well as to smokers or people with high blood pressure at a higher risk for heart problems.
Eugene Yang, a cardiologist, previously told Insider the drugs appeared to be safe overall and came with few side effects, such as muscle pain, headache, nausea, and dizziness. Rarely, statins cause elevated blood sugar, liver damage, and muscle damage.
Dietary supplements, on the other hand, are understudied — and containing “natural” ingredients doesn’t make them safe. A federally funded study found a small but growing number of liver-damage cases caused by turmeric supplements. Cardiologists previously told Insider they’d seen a rise in heart problems in young people who took too many herbal supplements.
Doctors may prescribe heart patients fish oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids, compounds that can reduce the risk for blood clots. But while the Mayo Clinic said people who eat diets rich in fish had a lower risk of dying from heart disease, taking fish-oil supplements has not been found to help heart health.