What supplements—if any—can improve cholesterol levels?
Dietary supplements often play a controversial role in disease treatment and prevention. There is a lot of mixed research on supplements and their effectiveness. As a result, it can be hard to form conclusions. Here's what science currently knows about dietary supplements to lower cholesterol.
Dietary Supplements to Lower Cholesterol
One dietary supplement that seems to help with cholesterol levels is red yeast rice. This supplement is essentially fermented yeast over red rice. The chemicals in red yeast rice are actually a natural form of what you would find in prescription statin medicines. Of course, statins are a medicine used to help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
However, keep in mind that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements. As a result, red yeast rice may contain impurities or additives. Without FDA approval, it's hard to know the safety of additives. In fact, the label might not even tell you these additives are there.
In other words, if you are interested in using red yeast rice, it may be safer and more effective to use actual statins.
Supplements That Probably Don’t Help
Some dietary supplements have received attention over the years as having benefits for heart health. Unfortunately, they haven’t lived up to their potential. These supplements that probably don’t help lower cholesterol include:
- Fish oil: This stems from the fact that populations who consume a lot of oily fish often have lower rates of heart disease. Unfortunately, recent research suggests that there isn’t any significant benefit of fish oil for heart health, including lowering cholesterol. (Eating fish a couple times a week is still a good idea for heart health.)
- Vitamin D supplements: While these may be useful for osteoporosis prevention, they do not appear to help with heart disease prevention.
Talk to a doctor before using dietary supplements to lower cholesterol—or any other medical purpose. Some supplements may interfere with medicines, or they may be harmful to your health in other ways.
Dr. Tolani is a cardiologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.