It’s a sobering fact: Heart disease is the number one cause of death both in the U.S. and worldwide. But, according to the American Heart Association, a full 80 percent of cardiovascular disease is preventable. Arrigo Cicero, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiac researcher and professor at the University of Bologna, says that we know many of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease—and also how to manage them. He advises to not smoke; get regular exercise; focus on eating whole grains, vegetables, fresh fruits, nuts and fish; and avoid excess salt, processed meats and trans fats. He also recommends reducing stress, managing insomnia and adopting a pet(!), all of which are associated with improved heart health. Additionally, he recommends these heart-supportive supplements.
Cicero’s favorite supplement for heart health is magnesium. “It is associated with reduced blood cortisol level (the stress hormone) and reduced blood pressure,” he says, which is important because blood pressure is a strong risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Research also suggests that magnesium may improve cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease, heart failure and stroke. A 2019 analysis found that the highest magnesium intake reduced stroke risk by 11 percent. Recommended dosage: 200 mg/day chelated magnesium (a form that is more easily absorbed)
The news has been back and forth on fish oil and heart health, but recent research is once again touting its benefits. An updated 2019 metaanalysis of 13 randomized, controlled trials and more than 127,000 participants found that marine-derived omega-3s significantly reduce risk of heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular disease and death. Cicero suggests supplements with EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) specifically—which can improve circulatory health, help regulate heartbeat and may reduce cardiovascular inflammation. Recommended dosage: 1,000 mg/day EPA
Beetroot extracts are a “natural source of nitrates and are associated with reduced blood pressure and improved vascular and heart functionality,” says Cicero. A 2021 trial on healthy males found that taking beetroot extract before exercise improved heart rate recovery, and a 2020 review paper reported that the blood pressure lowering effect of beetroot juice is “significant” in people with normal blood pressure and even more considerable with high blood pressure or obesity. Recommended dosage: 200–400 mg/day
Red Yeast Rice
Widely used to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of major cardiac events, red yeast rice is made by fermenting white rice with a yeast called Monascus purpureus, creating a reddish colored rice. In a 2019 research paper, Cicero reported that this rice reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol by as much as 25 percent. He suggests taking it combined with phytosterols (which studies have found have an additional cholesterollowering effect) or the Chinese herb berberine (which also reduces triglycerides). Do not use red yeast rice if you take statin drugs or are intolerant to statins, says Cicero, as red yeast rice has similar effects. Recommended dosage: 1,200–2,400 mg/day, divided into two to three doses