Natural or complementary treatments for heart disease often aim to control cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and improve heart health. Typically, research on such treatments is limited, compared to that on conventional medical treatments.
Few natural products have been clinically proven to reduce cholesterol. According to the Heart Failure Society of America (HFSA), there’s no evidence that alternative or herbal therapies lower the risk of heart failure. However, many people have experienced some success with alternative treatments. For example, the Mayo Clinic notes that some cholesterol-lowering supplements and natural remedies might be helpful.
Before you try any alternative treatments, check with your doctor to determine if they’re safe for you. The ingredients in some alternative therapies can interfere with certain medications or have harmful side effects.
Astragalus is an herb used to support the immune system in traditional Chinese medicine. It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s considered to be an “adaptogen.” This means it’s believed to protect the body against various stresses.
Limited studies suggest that astragalus may have some benefits for your heart. But according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), high quality clinical human trials are generally lacking. More research is needed to learn how astragalus may impact your cholesterol levels and overall heart health.
Hawthorn is a shrub related to the rose. Its berries, leaves, and flowers have been used for heart problems since the time of the Roman Empire.
Some studies have found the plant to be an effective treatment for milder forms of heart failure. However, research results are conflicting, warns the NCCIH. There’s not enough scientific evidence to know if hawthorn is effective for other heart problems.
Flaxseed comes from the flax plant. Both flaxseed and flaxseed oil contain high levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). This is an omega-3 fatty acid that may help lower your risk of heart disease.
Research on the benefits of flaxseed for heart health has produced mixed results, reports the NCCIH. Some studies suggest that flaxseed preparations may help lower cholesterol, particularly among people with high cholesterol levels and postmenopausal women.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in fish and fish oils. Salmon, tuna, lake trout, herring, sardines, and other fatty fish are especially rich sources.
According to the Mayo Clinic, experts have long believed that omega-3 fatty acids in fish help reduce the risk of dying from heart disease. More recent studies suggest that other nutrients in fish, or a combination of those nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids, may help protect your heart. Eating one or two servings of fatty fish per week may lower your chances of dying from a heart attack.
If you have heart disease, you may also benefit from taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements or eating other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. For example, walnuts, canola oil, and soybeans are good sources. However, the Mayo Clinic notes that the evidence is stronger for the benefits of eating fish with omega-3 fatty acids than taking supplements or eating other foods.
Garlic is an edible bulb that’s been used as a cooking ingredient and medicine for thousands of years. It can be eaten raw or cooked. It’s also available in supplement form, as a capsule or tablet.
Some research suggests that garlic may help lower your blood pressure, reduce your blood cholesterol levels, and slow the progress of atherosclerosis, reports NCCIH. However, as with many alternative therapies, studies have yielded mixed results. For example, some studies have found that taking garlic for one to three months helps lower blood cholesterol levels. However, an NCCIH-funded study on the safety and effectiveness of three garlic preparations found no long-term effect on blood cholesterol.
Red yeast rice
Red yeast rice is a traditional Chinese medicine and cooking ingredient. It’s made by culturing red rice with yeast.
Some red yeast rice products contain substantial quantities of monacolin K, reports the NCCIH. This substance is chemically identical to the active ingredient in the cholesterol-lowering drug lovastatin. Red yeast rice products that contain this substance may help lower your blood cholesterol levels.
Other red yeast rice products contain little to no monacolin K, according to the NCCIH. Some also contain a contaminant called citrinin. This contaminant can cause kidney failure. In many cases, there’s no way for you to know which products contain monacolin K or citrinin. Therefore, it’s hard to tell which products will be effective or safe.
Plant sterols and stanols are substances found in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and other plants. Some processed foods are also fortified with plant sterols or stanols. For example, you may find fortified margarines, orange juice, or yogurt products.
Research suggests that plant sterols and stanols may help lower your risk of heart disease, reports the Cleveland Clinic. They help prevent your small intestine from absorbing cholesterol. This can lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels in your blood.
Pros and cons
Diet and lifestyle
You can also adopt healthy lifestyle habits to help manage your blood cholesterol levels. For example:
- Stop smoking.
- Lose excess weight.
- Exercise most days of the week.
- Eat heart-healthy foods, including foods rich in soluble fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Limit your consumption of foods high in saturated fats. For example, substitute olive oil for butter.
- Eliminate trans fats from your diet.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Take steps to reduce stress.
A variety of medications are also available to lower high cholesterol. For example, your doctor may prescribe:
Cholesterol is a type of fat in your blood. Although your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, you also get cholesterol from foods you eat. Your genetics, age, diet, activity levels, and other factors affect your risk of developing high cholesterol.
High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. It increases your chance of developing heart disease and having a heart attack. It can also raise your risk of stroke. In particular, high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol raise your risk of these conditions. LDL cholesterol is often called “bad” cholesterol.
If you have high cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe medications or lifestyle changes. For example, losing weight, increasing your physical activity, eating healthy foods, and quitting smoking can help bring your cholesterol levels down.