Dietary Supplements Ineffective in Lowering Cholesterol Compared With Low-Dose Statin

By Cailin Conner - Last Updated: November 8, 2022

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 93 million U.S. adults have high cholesterol. High levels of cholesterol (>200 mg/dL) are associated with heart attacks, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. In the body, there are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL). HDL cholesterol is widely considered to be “good cholesterol”, meaning it absorbs cholesterol in the blood and carries it back to the liver. LDL cholesterol is often considered the “bad cholesterol” as the low-density lipoproteins take cholesterol to your arteries, where it can collect in arterial walls and lead to atherosclerosis.

High cholesterol levels are preventable, and living a healthy lifestyle is recommended to keep your cholesterol levels in the recommended range. This means improving your diet, staying active, limiting alcohol intake, etc. Moreover, many individuals have also turned to taking daily dietary supplements to improve their cholesterol levels and/or overall health.

“According to a 2020 market research analysis, Americans spend an estimated $50 billion on dietary supplements annually, and many are marketed for ‘heart protection’ or ‘cholesterol management’. Yet there is minimal-to-no research demonstrating these benefits,” Luke J. Laffin MD, co-director of the Center for Blood Pressure Disorders at the Cleveland Clinic, explained.

Presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2022 and published in Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Dr. Laffin and co-authors of the study assessed the effectiveness of six common dietary supplements to a low-dose statin and placebo in lowering LDL cholesterol. The prospective, single-blind clinical trial randomized 190 patients to receive 5 mg daily of rosuvastatin (a common low-dose statin), placebo, fish oil, cinnamon, garlic, turmeric, plant sterols or red yeast rice. Researchers reviewed the percent change in LDL cholesterol from baseline after 28 days.

After 28 days, average LDL cholesterol was 37.9% in patients who took the statin. Patients who took any of the supplements had comparable LDL cholesterol levels with those in the placebo group. Additionally, the statin group had an average 24% decrease in total cholesterol levels, which was a significant decrease compared with those in the placebo and all other supplement groups.

There were no significant changes in HDL cholesterol observed in the statin group; however, there was a notable lowering of HDL cholesterol in patients who were in the plant sterols dietary supplement group. Those who received the garlic dietary supplement showed increased levels of LDL cholesterol compared with the statin and placebo groups.

“This study sends an important public health message that dietary supplements commonly taken for ‘cholesterol health’ or ‘heart health’ are unlikely to offer meaningful impact on cholesterol levels. The results also indicate that a low-dose statin offers important beneficial effects on one’s cholesterol profile,” Dr. Laffin concluded.

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