Q: I am trying to lower my cholesterol and make other heart-healthy lifestyle choices. Should I also be taking a special “heart-health” multi-vitamin?
A: It is fine to choose one of these heart-formulated multi-vitamins to use as your regular multi-vitamin. However, it is important to keep three things in mind.
First, research has yet to show a direct benefit between individual nutrients and heart disease prevention. This could be because all foods are a combination of nutrients. Every food we eat (especially fruits, vegetables and whole grains) provides an assortment of nutrients that interact to provide risk-reduction benefits much stronger than the sum of their parts.
Second, many consumers don’t realize that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration does not oversee the safety or effectiveness of over-the-counter vitamin supplements. This simply means that while many companies may market a multi-vitamin that is said to be formulated for heart-health, or any other condition, these claims have not been evaluated by the FDA.
Last, “added” ingredients in certain heart-healthy vitamin supplements, such as phytosterols (or plant sterols), have been shown to lower cholesterol levels by 8 to 15 percent. However, a large amount (2 to 3 grams) of phytosterols is needed daily to reap this benefit. Phytosterols are much weaker than the statin drugs routinely used to treat high cholesterol, so it is important that you don’t stop taking any medications your physician prescribes.
One last thing to consider: While a daily supplement is a good back up to make certain you get adequate levels of certain vitamins and minerals, it is no substitute for a healthy diet.
By Benico Barzilai, MD, Section Head of Clinical Cardiology at the Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute at Cleveland Clinic.