We all want to have a healthy heart, a strong immune system, strong bones, glowing skin, the list goes on. Consuming a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients plays an important role in optimal aging. But with busy schedules, potential financial barriers, and competing health demands, for some, if not most of us, this can sometimes feel like a tall order (1). That’s why we listen to the slightest promise of seemingly “easy” solutions to our health problems or strategies that take little effort and still help us achieve our health goals. One such strategy is the use of dietary supplements. These supplements line the shelves of our grocery stores,
Despite the often exaggerated claims disseminated by advertising, the data supporting the use of dietary supplements for the prevention and treatment of various conditions or for the promotion of health in general are not always so clear-cut (2 -16). Sometimes they are encouraging, but often in specific contexts, as in the case of vitamin D and diabetes or respiratory tract infections, and other times they are insufficient and require further research, as in the cases of cancer or dementia prevention. Results vary depending on the population, type of supplement, and clinical outcome studied (3-16).
Cardiovascular diseases (those of the heart or blood vessels) contribute to a significant proportion of deaths worldwide. In 2019 alone, cardiovascular disease was responsible for the loss of almost 18 million lives. Digging deeper into the data, more than 15 million of these deaths are directly related to a heart attack or stroke (17). Currently, there is no consensus on the use of specific vitamin and mineral supplements for the prevention or treatment of cardiovascular disease, but their use by the public remains high. A systematic study recently took on the task of reviewing the evidence for the role of supplements in reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, or death from cardiovascular disease (2).
So should the results make our hearts beat faster, in a good way?
These findings might make people who want to protect their heart health think twice before putting a bottle of the supplement in their shopping cart.
Overall, commonly used supplements—such as vitamins D and C, calcium, and multivitamins—were found to not appear to reduce the risk of total cardiovascular disease, heart attack, or stroke, compared to the lack of supplementation. Additionally, there is also no reduction in deaths from cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, or any other cause. The evidence ranges from very low certainty to high certainty depending on the clinical outcome, which means that future research could change the conclusions for some outcomes, but probably not for others. For example, the conclusion that vitamin D does not reduce the risk of death from any cause is the only one based on high-quality evidence, which allows us to be very confident in this particular conclusion. The following vitamins and minerals may also have no effect on cardiovascular outcomes: antioxidants, beta-carotene, iron, magnesium, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B6, vitamin E and zinc. It should be noted, however, that consuming antioxidants and niacin (along with a statin) may increase the risk of death from any cause.
However, some positive results deserve to be underlined. Specifically, the use of folic acid may reduce the risk of total cardiovascular disease and stroke, while B-complex vitamins (of which folic acid is also a component) may reduce the risk of stroke. That said, these results should be viewed with caution and with additional information. Although the individual studies included in the review were conducted in countries around the world, the positive results came from a large study carried out in China. Unlike North America, where foods are fortified with folic acid, China does not routinely do the same.
Where does this lead us? Ultimately, we get back to where our conversation started, emphasizing the importance of a healthy, balanced diet that allows us to get all the vitamins and minerals we need without resorting to supplements. . A diet rich in plant sources is likely to help most people (unless they have specific underlying conditions that require the use of supplements) to achieve this (2). Consult Canada’s Food Guide for advice on healthy eating or talk to your healthcare team. If you decide to incorporate supplements into your diet, make sure you make this decision in conjunction with your healthcare team, as not all supplements are safe for everyone.