Supplements, Snake-oils and Diets

Please check Medline Plus, NHS and the other resources in our Health Information we Trust list to learn more about any supplement which interests you, and please tell your doctor what you are taking. Remember that even quite legitimate herbal or alternative medications/supplements can have very bad interactions with your medication or be dangerous for your particular circumstances – and that natural doesn’t mean safe.

Omega 3 fatty acids and Fish Oils

Overall, a number of studies offer evidence to support the hypothesis that fish, fish oil, or ALA (alpha linolenic acid) supplement consumption reduces mortality from cardiovascular illness and various cardiovascular disease outcomes, although the evidence is strongest for fish or fish oil.

Vitamin E 

A report published in the March 16, 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that those taking vitamin E supplements had a 13 percent increased risk of heart failure. This report comes from a clinical trial called the Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation Study Extension

Vitamin D

There is very exciting work being done on how vitamin D may be beneficial in lowering the risk of heart and circulatory disease as well as other chronic and age related conditions. No firm conclusions yet, but seemingly huge potential. Go to the resources in Look Here First to learn more.

Hawthorne (Crataegus)

An ancient remedy for heart conditions. The US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) website tells us that currently hawthorn leaf and flower are used for heart failure and for symptoms of coronary artery disease (such as angina). The leaf and flower are used to make liquid extracts, usually with water and alcohol. Dry extracts can be put into capsules and tablets.

The NCCAM says there is scientific evidence that hawthorn leaf and flower are safe and effective for milder forms of heart failure. There is not enough scientific evidence to determine whether hawthorn works for other heart problems.

In terms of Side Effects and Cautions, the NCCAM tell us that Hawthorn is considered safe for most adults when used for short periods of time. Side effects are usually mild and can include upset stomach, headache, and dizziness.

Drug interactions with hawthorn have not been thoroughly studied. It was once thought that hawthorn interacted with the heart medicine digoxin. However, a very small study in people without heart conditions found no interaction, but evidence is limited.

Flaxseed (flaxseed oil, linseed)

Again using the NCCAM as reference: Flaxseed is most commonly used as a laxative. It has also been used for hot flashes and breast pain, arthritis and other conditions. It’s available in powder liquid and capsule form.

Both flaxseed and flaxseed oil have been used for high cholesterol level. Studies of flaxseed preparations to lower cholesterol levels report mixed results. Some studies suggest that alpha-linolenic acid (a substance found in flaxseed and flaxseed oil) may benefit people with heart disease. So far there is not enough reliable data available to determine whether flaxseed is effective for heart conditions.

Side Effects and Cautions include possible digestive problems (it should always be taken with plenty of water. The fibre in flaxseed may lower the body’s ability to absorb medications that are taken by mouth. Flaxseed should not be taken at the same time as any conventional oral medications or other dietary supplements.

Garlic (Allium sativum)

NCCAM says garlic’s most common uses as a dietary supplement are for high cholesterol, heart disease, and high blood pressure. It can be eaten raw or cooked. It can also be dried or powdered and used in tablets and capsules. Raw garlic cloves can be used to make oils and liquid extracts.

Preliminary research suggests that taking garlic may slow the development of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) – [our emphasis], a condition that can lead to heart disease or stroke.

Evidence is mixed on whether taking garlic can slightly lower blood pressure.

Some evidence indicates that taking garlic can slightly lower blood cholesterol levels; studies have shown positive effects for short-term (1 to 3 months) use. However, an NCCAM-funded study on the safety and effectiveness of three garlic preparations (fresh garlic, dried powdered garlic tablets, and aged garlic extract tablets) for lowering blood cholesterol levels found no effect. Side Effects and Cautions: NCCAM says that garlic appears to be safe for most adults. Side effects include breath and body odor, heartburn, upset stomach, and allergic reactions. These side effects are more common with raw garlic.

Garlic can thin the blood (reduce the ability of blood to clot) in a manner similar to aspirin. This effect may be a problem during or after surgery. Use garlic with caution if you are planning to have surgery or dental work, or if you have a bleeding disorder [our emphasis]. A cautious approach is to avoid garlic in your diet or as a supplement for at least 1 week before surgery.

Antioxidants: The American Heart Association reviewed 20 separate clinical trials that examined whether taking antioxidant supplements (specifically, vitamin E, beta-carotene, antioxidant cocktails, or the combination of vitamins E and C) would reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. They found no proven positive effect. Other studies have suggested that antioxidant supplements can actually be harmful to people with heart conditions. We’re talking here about antioxidants as
vitamins/supplements you buy, not the naturally occurring ones in a healthy diet. Check any vitamins/supplements you’re using with your doctor, or at least with Medline Plus. Go carefully and don’t buy the promotional claims.

Chelation Therapy – The American Heart Association has reviewed the available literature on using chelation (E.D.T.A. – ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid) to treat arteriosclerotic heart disease. They found no scientific evidence to demonstrate any benefit from this form of therapy. A very big study is underway to determine whether chelation therapy is safe and effective for people with coronary heart disease. See MedlinePlus for more on what this is and how it is claimed to work.

If people use chelation therapy and it doesn’t work, they may be deprived of the well-established benefits from the many other valuable methods of treating these diseases, such as lifestyle modifications, medications and surgical procedures.

Viagra and Cialis: Research carried our suggest that Viagra could provide effective treatment for Pulmonary Hypertension, or high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs. The research was published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association. Needless to say you could harm yourself disastrously by self-medicating with Viagra for a circulation problem. We mention the research as interesting only. The British Heart Foundation strongly recommends talking to your doctor before using Viagra or Cialis.

Miracle Diets: There aren’t any, unless you consider a healthy, balanced Mediterranean style diet miraculous. Anyone who tell you that several weeks subsisting on brown rice or any other single food or wildly limited selection of foods should be treated with extreme caution.

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