Certain herbs, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds may help control cholesterol, blood pressure, and anxiety.
High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and anxiety are three common conditions that are often treated with medication. But sometimes people can't tolerate those drugs or are reluctant to use them. In these instances, dietary supplements may be an option.
Studies have shown that some herbs, vitamins, minerals, and other substances, alone or in combination with traditional treatments, may be effective in treating these conditions, and are largely safe to use — provided your doctor approves.
Vitamin D3. If you cannot tolerate a statin medication and have a low vitamin D level, a vitamin D3 supplement could help. After taking the supplement, some people are then able to tolerate statins when they couldn't in the past.
Phytosterols. Phytosterols (also called plant stanols or sterols) are derived from the cell membranes of plants and can be taken in pill form. They are also found naturally in foods such as nuts, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Studies show that phytosterol supplements can lower "bad" LDL cholesterol by up to 14% in people taking 2,000 to 3,000 milligrams (mg) a day. When choosing a product, look for a quality seal (see "Worried about supplement safety? Here's what you should consider"), and also look for a product that contains phytosterol esters.
Red yeast rice. Red yeast rice supplements are made from a type of yeast that is grown on white rice. Red yeast rice has long been used in Chinese medicine. But a recent study comparing red yeast rice to a low dose statin found the statin was much more effective at lowering LDL cholesterol levels. If you still decide to use it, look for a high-quality product, because red yeast rice can contain a dangerous contaminant, citrinin, which is a toxin produced by fungus that can cause food poisoning, kidney damage, and immune system problems.
Worried about supplement safety? Here's what you should consider
While some supplements are potentially helpful (or at least harmless), a lack of regulatory oversight of these products means that others might be ineffective or dangerous, or might contain hazardous contaminants. Identifying the safe choices requires a little detective work. Before taking a supplement, always talk to your doctor to make sure that it's safe for any medical conditions you may have and that it won't interact with any medications you are taking.
Although supplement makers must follow FDA rules for good manufacturing practices, the agency does not require testing the estimated 9,000 products on the market to make sure they do contain the ingredients they claim, and don't contain contaminants, such as dangerous bacteria, arsenic, cadmium, or lead. This means there is no guarantee that any particular product is effective or safe. To add a degree of protection, look for products that have voluntarily gone through quality testing, which is certified by a seal on the packaging. Some good ones to look for are those from U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International.
High blood pressure
Magnesium citrate or glycinate. Some people are deficient in the mineral magnesium. But blood tests aren't good at detecting total magnesium levels inside the body, because much of your body's magnesium is stored within cells. Many people find the deficiency only after a nutritionist analyzes their diet. In those individuals, supplements can boost magnesium levels and help reduce high blood pressure when taken along with traditional blood pressure treatments. It typically takes up to six weeks for the supplements to show an effect. However, not everyone should take magnesium, particularly those with kidney disease, so be certain to consult with your doctor before taking it.
Lycopene. An antioxidant supplement that may also help reduce high blood pressure is lycopene, which gives vegetables like tomatoes their red hue. While tomato-based products, including canned sauces, contain lycopene, those foods often have a lot of sodium. So, it's better in many instances to opt for a supplement. Look for one that also contains tomato extract for an added benefit. Typically, people need to take 15 to 25 mg of lycopene daily to see a reduction in blood pressure.
Chamomile extract. This extract, which comes from a flower, has long been used as a therapy for anxiety. Anxiety often goes hand in hand with sleeplessness, so it's no surprise that chamomile is also often recommended as a sleep aid. Many people drink chamomile tea, but taking a supplement may be more convenient (and require fewer late-night trips to the bathroom if taken before bed).
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