Supplements Introduction

According to one definition, the word “supplement”? means “something added to complete a thing, to extend or strengthen the whole.” And that’s just what the supplement portion of the Plan is intended to do strengthen your efforts to lower your cholesterol and improve your overall heart health.

The supplements we outline in this chapter serve different purposes. Some make blood platelets less sticky, reducing your risk of artery-blocking clots; some prevent the oxidation of LDL, making it less likely to lead to plaque; others help minimize certain side effects of cholesterol-lowering drugs; still others act as alternatives to prescription drugs. Some of the supplements in this chapter won’t be right for you. Others will—especially the two we advise everyone on the Plan to take.

In addition to these two, we list seven supplements that, since they have the strongest evidence behind them in terms of lowering cholesterol or protecting you from heart disease, we think you should consider. (We also mention a handful of supplements at the end of the chapter that, while we aren’t recommending as part of the Plan, are worth watching.) For each supplement we tell you whom it’s appropriate for. Chromium, for instance, is best used by people with metabolic syndrome, And red yeast rice extract is only for people whose cholesterol! levels are high enough to qualify them for medication. Finally, we explain any contraindications or warnings for each supplement. Because as with drugs, all supplements pose potential risks. Before you start taking any of the supplements in this chapter, check with your doctor. Turn the page for more specific advice on using supplements safely and effectively.

A Few Words to the Wise

Before reading on to find out which supplements you should consider taking, keep two pieces of important advice in mind:

“Natural” doesn’t mean “safe.”’ Just because a supplement may be natural doesn’t mean taking it is completely without risk. Many, if not all, supplements have the potential to interact with prescription or over-the-counter drugs, cause harmful side effects if taken inappropriately, or even make existing medical conditions worse. That’s why it’s critical that you tell your health care providers about any supplements you take. In a University of Michigan study one-third of the patients taking supplements were using ones that could interact with their heart medications. Be especially cautious if you’re taking blood-thinning medication like aspirin, Coumadin (warfarin), or Plavix (clopidogrel); many supplements, such as ginkgo biloba, ginseng, garlic, vitamin EB, fish oil, and coenzyme Q10, also have blood-thinning properties, and the combined effect could lead to dangerous bleeding. Also, just because the label may say “natural” doesn’t mean that supplements are any safer than pharmaceutical drugs. They still include chemicals that have an effect on your body; that’s why they work. So don’t exceed the recommended dose, and don’t take any supplement longer than advised. If you are pregnant or nursing, be doubly sure to check with your doctor before taking any supplements. Know what you’re getting. The FDA 124 subjects prescription and over-the-counter drugs to rigorous testing and manufacturing standards, but vitamins, minerals, herbs, and enzymes don’t have to be proven safe or effective before they’re sold, In fact, there’s no guarantee that the supplement you buy even contains what the label says it contains. So one brand of coenzyme Q10, for Instance, could have very different properties than another. To get the facts, rely on, which independently tests supplements and provides information on hundreds of brands on its Web site, (Some of the information on the site costs money to view.)

Two Supplements Everyone Should Take