Heart Disease Risk and Multivitamins

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Health Current Events, Healthy Lifestyle, Healthy Living, Supplements and Health, Vitamins and Health

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

heart disease riskIt’s so confusing. One week vitamins are going to reduce your heart disease risk and cancer risk. The next week they are worthless. They might even kill you. So when you saw the recent headlines suggesting that multivitamin-mineral supplement use might decrease heart disease risk in women, you probably weren’t sure what to think.

More to the point, you may be thinking “Why is it so hard to get this right? Why can’t scientists decide once and for all whether vitamins are beneficial or not?”

Perhaps, the best way to understand the significance of the present study is to look at the strengths and limitations of previous studies. Then we can start to gain perspective on why it is so difficult to come to a definitive conclusion about this very important question.

How Good Is The Evidence That Multivitamin Use Doesn’t Reduce Heart Disease Risk?

heart disease and multivitaminsMedical authorities are fond of telling you, with a great deal of confidence, that studies have conclusively proven multivitamin use does not decrease heart disease risk. However, in fact, that conclusion is based on only a few studies, and those studies have their limitations.

For example, the Physician’s Health Study II (Sesso et al, JAMA, 308: 1751-1760, 2012) reported that use of a multivitamin-mineral supplement for 11 years did not decrease cardiovascular incidence or mortality. It was a double-blind, placebo controlled clinical study. That’s the best kind of study, so it would be tempting to consider the case closed.

However, this study looked at a very small segment of the population. The participants were all male, primarily non-Hispanic whites, well to do, highly educated and health conscious. It also turns out that the participants that were in the poorest health and had the poorest health habits tended to drop out of the study and were not included in the final data analysis.

That means that the vast majority of participants in the study were at low risk of heart disease and were eating relatively healthy diets. Those are the people who would be least likely to benefit from supplementation. In short, this study proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the people least likely to benefit from supplementation did, in fact, not benefit from supplementation.

The studies that medical authorities quote as proving their case for women have all looked at antioxidant supplements and cardiovascular disease. There are three double-blind, placebo controlled studies that have all come to the conclusion that antioxidant supplements do not decrease cardiovascular risk in women. Once again, it might be tempting to consider the case closed.

However, in two of those studies (Lee et al, JAMA, 294: 56-65, 2005; Cook et al, Archives of Internal Medicine, 167: 1610-1618, 2007) when they looked at the subset of women who were at high risk of cardiovascular disease (either because of age or pre-existing disease), antioxidant supplements significantly decreased the risk of cardiovascular events and cardiovascular deaths. In short, these studies showed that those people most likely to benefit from supplementation, did, in fact, benefit from supplementation.

Finally, medical authorities have chosen to completely ignore a recent study reporting that multivitamin use significantly decreased heart attack risk in women, especially if they had been using the multivitamins for 5 years or more (Rautiainen et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 92: 1251-1256, 2010). In short, previous studies have not conclusively proven much of anything except that it is really hard to get definitive answers to this kind of question.

Does Multivitamin Use Decrease Cardiovascular Disease Risk In Women?

cardiovascular disease in womenThe current study (Bailey et al, Journal of Nutrition, 145: 572-580, 2015) compared multivitamin use in 8678 adults(65% women) 40 years or older, from the USDA’s NHANES III database and compared it with cardiovascular death reports in the National Death Index 18 years later.

At the time of the NHANES III study, 45% of the adults surveyed had used some kind of supplement within the past 30 days. When the researchers broke the data down further:

  • 21% were using multivitamin-mineral supplements (3 or more vitamins and 1 or more minerals)
  • 14% were using multivitamin supplements (3 or more vitamins, no minerals).
  • Among multivitamin-mineral and multivitamin supplement users, only 46% had been using them for 3 years or more.

When they compared supplement usage with cardiovascular deaths 18 years later, the results were as follows:

  • When they asked if multivitamin-mineral or multivitamin use at the beginning of the study affected cardiovascular mortality 18 years later, the answer was a clear no.
  • When they looked at women, use of a multivitamin-mineral supplement for 3 years or more was associated with a 35% decreased risk of cardiovascular mortality.
  • However, they did not find any cardiovascular benefit from long term use of a multivitamin supplement alone for women. From this, they concluded that the beneficial effects of the multivitamin-mineral supplement came from one of the minerals, most likely magnesium or calcium.
  • There was a slight hint that multivitamin use might be beneficial for men, but the number of cardiovascular deaths in that group was too small for the results to be statistically significant.

What Does This Study Mean?

This study suggests that long term use of a multivitamin-mineral supplement may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease deaths in women. Whether long term multivitamin use also reduces risk of cardiovascular disease in men is an open question. This study is consistent with another recent study looking at multivitamin use in women (Rautiainen et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 92: 1251-1256, 2010). However, these studies are just a piece of the puzzle. It will take time and more studies before we will really be able to definitively say whether or not multivitamin use can decrease the risk of heart disease, or any other disease.

How Can You Reduce Your Heart Disease Risk?

The surest way to reduce your risk of heart disease is to develop a heart healthy lifestyle.

  • reduce heart disease riskLose weight and/or maintain ideal body weight. Overweight and obesity dramatically increase all of the major risk factors for heart disease – LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, diabetes, hypertension and inflammation.
  • Exercise for more than 30 minutes – 3 times or more/week. Regular exercise reduces the risk of heart disease by 30-40%.
  • Follow a diet low in saturated fat and trans-fat (substitute monounsaturated fats like olive oil and omega-3 fats); low in sugars and artificial sweeteners; and high in fiber, whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and fish.
  • Work with your physician to control predisposing diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

What about supplementation? What role does it play in a heart healthy lifestyle? At present it’s pretty clear that the scientific community cannot definitively prove whether supplementation reduces the risk of heart disease or not. All the available evidence suggests that supplementation is most likely to prove beneficial for those who are at highest risk for heart disease and/or are most likely to be deficient in key nutrients – either because of poor diet or genetic variations that increase nutrient requirements.

In the best of all possible worlds we would know who was at high risk for heart disease and who was deficient in key nutrients. We would know who would benefit from supplements and who would not, but we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds.

  • Most people don’t know they are at risk for heart disease until it is too late. For far too many people the first symptom of heart disease is sudden death.
  • Genetics can greatly increase the need for key nutrients, and most people are completely unaware of those genetic predispositions until it is too late. In the future, we may be able to design genetic tests to determine individual nutritional requirements with precision, but we are decades away from that Utopian age at present.
  • Finally, many people are either blissfully unaware how unhealthy their diet is, or they just don’t want to do anything about it.

For all of the reasons above, I recommend a balanced supplementation program as part of a heart healthy lifestyle. The supplements most likely to be beneficial are a multivitamin-mineral supplement, antioxidants, omega-3s, and B vitamins. I have covered the evidence for the role of each of these nutrients in preserving heart health in previous issues of “Health Tips From the Professor”. Of course, I do not recommend supplementation as an alternative to a heart healthy lifestyle. Taking a multivitamin along with your Big Mac is probably not going to do much for your heart health.

 

The Bottom Line

 

  • A recent study reported that women who used a multivitamin – mineral supplement for 3 years or more decreased their risk of dying from heart disease over the next 18 years by 35%. The men in the study may have received some benefit from multivitamin – mineral supplementation, but the numbers were not large enough to be statistically significant.
  • This study is fully consistent with the results of a previous study with women. However, when we look at all of the available studies it is not possible to definitively conclude whether supplementation decreases the risk of heart disease or not.
  • All of the available evidence suggests that supplementation is most likely to be beneficial for those people who are at highest risk of heart disease and/or are most likely to be deficient in key nutrients.
  • In the best of all possible worlds we would know who was at high risk for heart disease and who was deficient in key nutrients. We would know who would benefit from supplements and who would not, but we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds.
  • Most people don’t know they are at risk for heart disease until it is too late. For far too many people the first symptom of heart disease is sudden death.
  • Genetics can greatly increase the need for key nutrients, and most people are completely unaware of those genetic predispositions until it is too late. In the future, we may be able to design genetic tests to determine individual nutritional requirements with precision, but we are decades away from that Utopian age at present.
  • Finally many people are either blissfully unaware how unhealthy their diet is, or they just don’t want to do anything about it.
  • For the reasons above, I recommend a balanced supplementation program as part of a heart healthy lifestyle. The supplements most likely to be beneficial are a multivitamin-mineral supplement, antioxidants, omega-3s, and B vitamins.
  • Of course,I do not recommend supplementation as an alternative to a heart healthy lifestyle. Taking a multivitamin along with your Big Mac is probably not going to do much for your heart health.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (2)

  • denise

    |

    is magnesium good for the heart

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Magnesium is indeed good for the heart. That doesn’t mean we need mega-doses of it. However, many Americans do not get the recommended intake of magnesium from their diet. For most people a multivitamin providing 50% of the DV for magnesium should be sufficient, although some people may need more.

      Reply

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Latest Article

Do Omega-3s Lower Blood Pressure in Young, Healthy Adults?

Posted August 14, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

What Is The Omega-3 Index And Why Is It Important?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Do omega-3s lower blood pressure in healthy adults?

omega-3s lower blood pressure young adultsThe literature on the potential health benefits of omega-3s is very confusing. That’s because a lot of bad studies have been published. Many of them never determined the omega-3 status of their subjects prior to omega-3 supplementation. Others relied on dietary recalls of fish consumption, which can be inaccurate.

Fortunately, a much more accurate measure of omega-3 status has been developed and validated in recent years. It’s called the Omega-3 Index. Simply put, the Omega-3 Index is the percentage of EPA and DHA compared to 26 other fatty acids found in cellular membranes. Using modern technology, it can be determined from a single finger prick blood sample. It is a very accurate reflection of omega-3 intake relative to other fats in the diet over the past few months. More importantly, it is a measure of the omega-3 content of your cell membranes, which is a direct measure of your omega-3 nutritional status.

A recent extension of the Framingham Heart Study reported that participants with an Omega-3 Index >6.8% had a 39% lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those with an Omega-3 Index <4.2% (WS Harris et al, Journal of Clinical Lipidology, 12: 718-724, 2018 ). Although more work needs to be done, an Omega-3 Index of 4% or less is generally considered indicative of high cardiovascular risk, while 8% or better is considered indicative of low cardiovascular risk. For reference, the average American has an Omega-3 Index in the 4-5% range. In Japan, where fish consumption is much higher and cardiovascular risk much lower, the Omega-3 Index is in the 9-11% range.

Previous studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids lower blood pressure to a modest extent. Thus, it is not surprising that more recent studies have shown an inverse correlation between Omega-3 Index and blood pressure. However, those studies have been done with older populations, many of whom had already developed high blood pressure.

From a public health point of view, it is much more interesting to investigate whether it might be possible to prevent high blood pressure in older adults by optimizing omega-3 intake in a young, healthy population, most of whom had not yet developed high blood pressure. Unfortunately, there were no studies looking at that population. The current study was designed to fill that gap.

 

How Was The Study Done?

omega-3s lower blood pressure young healthy adultsThe current study (M.G. Filipovic et al, Journal of Hypertension, 36: 1548-1554, 2018 ) was based on data collected from 2036 healthy adults, aged 25-41, from Liechtenstein. They were participants in the GAPP (Genetic and Phenotypic Determinants of Blood Pressure) study. Participants were excluded from the study if they had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and were taking medication to lower their blood pressure. They were also excluded if they had heart disease, chronic kidney disease, other severe illnesses, obesity, sleep apnea, or daily use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.

Blood samples were collected at the time of their enrollment in the study and frozen for subsequent determination of Omega-3 Index. Blood pressure was also measured at their time of enrollment in two different ways. The first was a standard blood pressure measurement in a doctor’s office.

For the second measurement they were given a wearable blood pressure monitor that recorded their blood pressure over 24 hours every 15 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes while they were sleeping. This is considered more accurate than a resting blood pressure measurement in a doctor’s office because it records the variation in blood pressure, while you are sleeping, while you are exercising, and while you go about your everyday activities.

 

Do Omega-3s Lower Blood Pressure In Young, Healthy Adults?

omega-3s lower blood pressure young adults equipmentNone of the participants in the study had significantly elevated blood pressure. The mean systolic and diastolic office blood pressures were 120±13 and 78±9 respectively. The average Omega-3 Index in this population was 4.6%, which is similar to the average Omega-3 Index in the United States.

When they compared the group with the highest Omega-3 Index (average = 5.8%) with the group with the lowest Omega-3 Index (average = 4.6%):

  • The office measurement of systolic and diastolic blood pressure was decreased by 3.3% and 2.6% respectively
  • While those numbers appear small, the differences were highly significant.
  • The 24-hour blood pressure measurements showed a similar decrease.
  • Blood pressure measurements decreased linearly with increasing Omega-3 Index. [In studies of this kind, a linear dose-response is considered an internal validation of the differences observed between the group with the highest Omega-3 Index and the group with the lowest Omega-3 Index.]

The authors concluded: “A higher Omega-3 Index is associated with statistically significant, clinically relevant, lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure in normotensive, young and healthy individuals. Diets rich omega-3 fatty acids may be a strategy for primary prevention of hypertension.”

 

What Does This Mean For You?

omega-3s lower blood pressure young adults questionPerhaps I should first comment on the significance of the relatively small decrease in blood pressure observed in this study.

  • These were young adults, all of whom had normal or near normal blood pressure.
  • The difference in Omega-3 Index was rather small (5.8% to 4.6%). None of the participants in the study were at the 8% or above that is considered optimal.
  • Liechtenstein is a small country located between Switzerland and Spain. Fish consumption is low and omega-3 supplement consumption is rare.

Under these conditions, even a small, but statistically significant, decrease in blood pressure is remarkable.

We should think of this study as the start of the investigation of the relationship between omega-3 status and blood pressure. Its weakness is that it only shows an association between high Omega-3 Index and low blood pressure. It does not prove cause and effect.

Its strength is that it is consistent with many other studies showing omega-3 fatty acids lower blood pressure. Furthermore, it suggests that the effect of omega-3s on blood pressure may also be seen in young, healthy adults who have not yet developed high blood pressure.

Finally, the authors suggested that a diet rich in omega-3s might reduce the incidence of high blood pressure by slowing the age-related increase in blood pressure that most Americans experience. This idea is logical, but speculative at present.

However, the GAPP study is designed to provide the answer to that question. It is a long-term study with follow-up examinations scheduled every 3-5 years. It will be interesting to see whether the author’s prediction holds true, and a higher Omega-3 Index is associated with a slower increase in blood pressure as the participants age.

 

Why Is The Omega-3 Index Important?

 

The authors of this study said: “The Omega-3 Index is very robust to short-term intake of omega-3 fatty acids and reliably reflects an individual’s long-term omega-3 status and tissue omega-3 content. Therefore, the Omega-3 Index has the potential to become a cardiovascular risk factor as much as the HbA1c is for people with diabetes…” That is a bit of an overstatement. HbA1c is a measure of disease progression for diabetes because it is a direct measure of blood sugar control.

In contrast, Omega-3 Index is merely a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. However, if it is further validated by future studies, it is likely to be as important for predicting cardiovascular risk as are cholesterol levels and markers of inflammation.

However, to me the most important role of Omega-3 Index is in the design of future clinical studies. If anyone really wants to determine whether omega-3 supplementation reduces cardiovascular risk, high blood pressure, diabetes or any other health outcome they should:

  • Start with a population group with an Omega-3 Index in the deficient (4-5%) range.
  • Supplement with omega-3 fatty acids in a double blind, placebo-controlled manner.
  • Show that supplementation brought participants up to an optimal Omega-3 Index of 8% or greater.
  • Look at health outcomes such as heart attacks, cardiovascular deaths, hypertension, stroke, or depression.
  • Continue the study long enough for the beneficial effects of omega-3 supplementation to be measurable. For cardiovascular outcomes the American Heart Association has stated that at least two years are required to obtain meaningful results.

These are the kind of experiments that will be required to give definitive, reproducible results and resolve the confusion about the health effects of omega-3 fatty acids.

 

The Bottom Line

 

An accurate measure of omega-3 status has been developed and validated in recent years. It’s called the Omega-3 Index. Simply put, the Omega-3 Index is the percentage of EPA and DHA compared to 26 other fatty acids found in cellular membranes.

Although more work needs to be done, an Omega-3 Index of 4% or less is generally considered indicative of high cardiovascular risk while 8% or better is considered indicative of low cardiovascular risk.

Previous studies have shown an inverse correlation between Omega-3 Index and blood pressure. However, these studies have been done with older populations, many of whom had already developed high blood pressure.

From a public health point of view, it is much more interesting to investigate whether it might be possible to prevent high blood pressure in older adults by optimizing omega-3 intake in a young, healthy population, most of whom had not yet developed high blood pressure. Until now, there have been no studies looking at that population.

The study described in this article was designed to fill that gap. The participants in this study were ages 25-41, were healthy, and none of them had elevated blood pressure.

When the group with the highest Omega-3 Index (average = 5.8%) was compared with the group with the lowest Omega-3 Index (average = 4.6%):

  • Both systolic and diastolic blood pressure were decreased
  • Blood pressure measurements decreased linearly with increasing Omega-3 Index.

The authors concluded: “A higher Omega-3 Index is associated with statistically significant, clinically relevant, lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure in normotensive, young and healthy individuals. Diets rich omega-3 fatty acids may be a strategy for primary prevention of hypertension.”

Let me translate that last sentence into plain English for you. The authors were saying that optimizing omega-3 intake in young adults may slow the age-related increase in blood pressure and reduce the risk of them developing high blood pressure as they age. This may begin to answer the question “Do omega-3s lower blood pressure in young, healthy adults?”

Or even more simply put: Aging is inevitable. Becoming unhealthy is not.

For more details, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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