Alternative Health

Do Any Anti-Cholesterol Supplements Work?

There are hundreds of dietary supplements on the market making claims to improve various health conditions. Here, the experts from Harvard Medical School take a look at supplements that are supposed to reduce cholesterol:

Hawthorn. The Harvard experts say that the hawthorn plant’s leaves, berries, and flowers are used to make medicine that was traditionally used to treat cardiovascular diseases. It may lower cholesterol by increasing the excretion of bile and decreasing the body’s production of cholesterol.

Verdict: It may help, the experts say.

Red yeast rice. A Chinese medicine, red yeast rice is said to lower cholesterol levels. The Harvard experts say that some red yeast products do contain a chemical that is similar to the anti-cholesterol medicine lovastatin. But an analysis of 12 red yeast rice products found that although all claimed to have 600 milligrams (mg) of the active ingredient in each capsule, the actual content varied between 0.1 mg and 10.9 mg, according to the Harvard experts. Additionally, one third of the products analyzed were contaminated with a compound called citrinin, which can cause kidney failure. The findings, the experts say, indicate how crucial it is to beware of claims about dietary supplements. These substances have almost no manufacturing requirements comparable to those of pharmaceutical drugs.

Verdict: Although red yeast rice may help, the purity of the supplement is problematic, the Harvard experts say.

Garlic. A study of the effectiveness and safety of garlic (fresh, dried powdered garlic tables and aged garlic extract tablets) showed no effect on cholesterol levels

Verdict: Save your money, the Harvard experts say.

Fish oil. Oil from fatty fish such as salmon and sardines contains omega-3 fatty acids, and these Omega-3s lower heart rate and blood pressure and improve the health of blood vessels. Several studies have shown that eating fatty fish lowers heart risks for people with heart failure or a previous heart attack. But, the Harvard experts caution, fish oil might not have the same impact. A 2013 study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that fish oil supplements don’t lower heart attack or stroke risk in people at high risk of heart disease.

Verdict: Eat fish instead.

To learn more about the use of supplements for improving cholesterol levels, their effectiveness, and how they affect you, buy Managing Your Cholesterol, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School. Click here to order.