Dec. 8, 2022 – Certain antioxidant supplements – such as omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid, and coenzyme Q10 – may benefit your heart’s health, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Researchers looked at the findings from nearly 900 studies with almost 900,000 patients and found some of these micronutrients reduced the risks of cardiovascular disease, stroke, or death, while others appeared to have no effect, and still others appeared to be potentially harmful.
“Our study highlights the importance of micronutrient diversity and the balance of health benefits and risks,” says Simin Liu, MD, the senior study author and a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Brown University in Providence, RI.
“Identifying the optimal mixture of micronutrients is important, as not all are beneficial, and some may even have harmful effects,” he says.
The research team focused on cardiovascular disease risk factors, including blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol, and things like heart attack or stroke.
Overall, the researchers found evidence that many micronutrients offer a potential boost to the heart, including:
- Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, vegetable oils, nuts (especially walnuts), flax seeds, flaxseed oil, and leafy vegetables
- Omega-6 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fats found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds
- L-arginine, an amino acid that helps the body build protein. It can be found in protein-rich foods like fish, red meat, poultry, soy, whole grains, beans, and dairy products.
- L-citrulline, a nonessential amino acid found in watermelon
- Folic acid, a form of vitamin B9 used for deficiency and to prevent pregnancy complications. It is added to cold cereals, flour, breads, pasta, bakery items, cookies, and crackers, as required by federal law. Foods that are naturally high in folate include leafy vegetables, okra, asparagus, certain fruits, beans, yeast, mushrooms, animal liver and kidney, orange juice, and tomato juice.
- Vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in a few foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. Fatty fish (such as trout, salmon, tuna, and mackerel) and fish liver oils are among the best sources.
- Magnesium, which keeps blood pressure normal, bones strong, and your heart rhythm steady. In addition to supplements, magnesium can be found in green leafy vegetables like spinach, nuts, beans, peas, and soybeans, as well as whole-grain cereals.
- Zinc, found in chicken, red meat, and fortified breakfast cereals
- Alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant made naturally in the body and also found in foods. It is in red meat, carrots, beets, spinach, broccoli, and potatoes.
- Coenzyme Q10, an antioxidant found in cold-water fish like tuna, salmon, mackerel, and sardines; vegetable oils; and meats
- Plant-based polyphenols such as catechin, curcumin, flavanol, genistein, and quercetin
Many of these micronutrients lowered blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin levels.
In particular, omega-3 fatty acid supplements were shown to lower cardiovascular disease deaths by 7%, coronary heart disease events by 14%, and heart attacks by 15%. Folic acid supplements also decreased stroke risk by 16%, and coenzyme Q10 decreased all-cause deaths by 32% in heart failure patients.
In contrast, supplements of beta-carotene (found naturally in plants, such as carrots, and fruits) increased stroke risk by 9%, all-cause deaths by 10%, and cardiovascular disease deaths by 12%. And finally, in the long term, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, and selenium showed no effect on cardiovascular disease outcomes or type 2 diabetes risk.
Previous studies have shown that antioxidants benefit the heart, likely because they reduce stress that contributes to heart disease. Heart-healthy diets, such as the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), feature antioxidant-rich foods. But studies of particular antioxidant supplements have been mixed or inconsistent.
“Research on micronutrient supplementation has mainly focused on the health effects of a single or a few vitamins and minerals,” Liu says. “We decided to take a comprehensive and systematic approach to evaluate all the publicly available and accessible studies reporting all micronutrients.”
More studies are needed to find combinations that improve someone’s individual diet and heart health, the study authors wrote.