An important part of caregiving is promoting a balanced diet for your loved one—with heart health at the forefront. You may have heard about the benefits of antioxidants like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin C, but how much do they really help cardiovascular health?
A new study published in the journal of the American College of Cardiology revealed that some antioxidants can benefit cardiovascular health by reducing oxidative stress, which creates inflammation and metabolic imbalance—while some have a detrimental effect.
Researchers reviewed 884 studies about micronutrients and studied 27 different antioxidant supplements. They found that while some supplements lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, others have no impact on heart health or are potentially dangerous.
“Our study highlights the importance of micronutrient diversity and the balance of health benefits and risks,” said Simin Liu, MD, professor of epidemiology and medicine at Brown University and a principal investigator for the study said in a press release. “Identifying the optimal mixture of micronutrients is important, as not all are beneficial, and some may even have harmful effects.”
While omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, melatonin and other supplements showed cardiovascular benefits, vitamins C, D and E did not show long-term cardiovascular benefits. Selenium, an antioxidant supplement that fights cell damage, also showed no lasting effect on heart health. And another popular supplement, beta carotene – which gives orange fruits and vegetables their pigment – was linked to increased mortality.
Researchers said that to learn more about how certain micronutrients affect health, they will need to conduct larger, higher-quality trials.
Although the study focused on supplements, it also found that heart-healthy antioxidants can be found naturally in food, specifically in a Mediterranean diet, which focuses on eliminating overly processed foods that contain saturated fats and implementing whole and natural foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids.
Here are some tips from the Mayo Clinic on building a heart-healthy diet:
- Prioritize vegetables and beans over meat.
- Eat fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines twice a week.
- Choose low-fat dairy, like plain Greek yogurt.
- Eat more whole grains, like brown rice and oats.
- Replace refined sugars with fresh fruit.
- Choose healthy fats, like avocados, nuts and seeds.
- Replace salt with herbs and spices, and try to give up salt (or give it a break).
- Reduce red meat intake.
Before adding any new foods or supplements into a loved one’s diet, caregivers should check with their doctor about the potential health hazards. While this study proves that some foods and supplements can lower the risk of heart disease, the safety of certain nutrients may vary from person to person.