Atherosclerosis is a condition in which cholesterol, calcium, and other substances, collectively referred to as plaque, clog your arteries. This blocks blood flow to your vital organs, in particular the heart.
There are a number of supplements, many derived from plants, that could help treat atherosclerosis. Most of them do that by affecting cholesterol levels.
High levels of cholesterol aren’t the only risk factor in developing atherosclerosis, but they’re a significant contributor.
There are two kinds of cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is also known as “bad” cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as “good” cholesterol. The goal in treating cholesterol and its related problems is to keep LDL low and to raise HDL.
Total cholesterol should be less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) LDL cholesterol should be under 100 mg/dL, while HDL cholesterol should be over 60 mg/dL.
Artichoke extract comes in capsules, tablets, and tinctures. The recommended dosage depends on which form you take, but there isn’t any research indicating that you can overdose on artichokes.
A 2009 literature review concluded that garlic doesn’t reduce cholesterol, but a similar review from 2014 suggested that taking garlic could prevent heart disease. A 2012 showed that aged garlic extract, when combined with coenzyme Q10, slowed the progress of atherosclerosis.
In any case, garlic probably won’t hurt you. Eat it raw or cooked, or take it in capsule or tablet form. The magic ingredient is allicin, which is also what makes garlic smell.
Try it: Shop for garlic supplements.
Your doctor might recommend niacin supplements to help with your cholesterol, since it can increase your “good” cholesterol levels by more than 30 percent. It can also lower triglycerides, another type of fat that increases your heart disease risk.
Niacin supplements can make your skin flushed and prickly feeling, and they might cause nausea.
The daily recommended amount of niacin is 16 mg for men. It’s 14 mg for most women, 17 mg for lactating women, and 18 mg for pregnant women.
Don’t take more than the recommended amount without talking to your doctor first.
Try it: Shop for niacin supplements.
Policosanol is an extract that’s made from plants such as sugar cane and yams.
An extensive study by Cuban scientists looked at policosanol derived from local sugar cane. It showed that the extract has cholesterol-reducing properties. A 2010 literature review stated that no tests outside of Cuba had confirmed the finding.
However, a 2017 review concluded that the Cuban study was more accurate than the studies taken outside of Cuba. More research into policosanol is still needed.
Policosanol comes in capsules and tablets.
Try it: Shop for policosanol supplements.
Hawthorn is a common shrub grown throughout the world. In Germany, an extract made of its leaves and berries is sold as a heart disease medicine.
Research from 2010 suggests that hawthorn may be a safe and effective treatment for heart disease. It contains the chemical quercetin, which has been shown to reduce cholesterol.
Hawthorn extract is sold primarily in capsules.
Try it: Shop for hawthorn supplements.
Red yeast rice is a food product that’s made by fermenting white rice with yeast. It’s commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine.
A 1999 study shows that it can significantly lower your levels of cholesterol. The power of red yeast rice lies in the substance monacolin K. It has the same makeup as lovastatin, a prescription statin drug used for lowering cholesterol.
This similarity between monacolin K and lovastatin has led the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to severely restrict the sale of red yeast rice supplements.
Supplements claiming to contain more than trace amounts of monacolin K have been banned. As a result, most product labels only note how much red yeast rice they contain, not how much monacolin K they contain.
It’s very difficult for consumers to know exactly how much monacolin K is in the products they’re purchasing, as confirmed by a 2017 study.
Try it: Shop for red yeast rice supplements.
There’s no proof that any supplement will cure atherosclerosis on its own. Any plan to treat the condition will likely include a healthy diet, an exercise plan, and perhaps prescription medicines to take along with supplements.
Also keep in mind that supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA in the same way that drugs are. This means that their quality can vary dramatically from one brand — or even bottle — to another.