Making Heart-Friendly Choices
Exercise and a healthy diet are essential to heart health, but for some people this disease-fighting duo may not be enough. Lynn Lunceford, an academic administrator in San Diego, was shocked when a routine test revealed her total cholesterol level was 233. The then 40-year-old exercised three to five days a week and wasn't overweight. For the next two years, she stepped up her diet and exercise efforts, but her cholesterol level didn't budge. Finally, in a last-ditch effort to dodge cholesterol-lowering medication, she started swallowing a blend of aged garlic and red yeast rice. Within two months, her cholesterol count tumbled to 184. "The difference was remarkable," says Lunceford, now an ardent supporter of supplements.
If, like Lunceford, you eat like a saint, exercise like a pro, and keep your weight down but your cholesterol or blood pressure readings are still high or borderline, you may want to talk to your doctor about supplements before jumping on the pharmaceutical bandwagon. If you're premenopausal, heart medications might not be helpful, says Redberg. "Prescription medications for lowering cholesterol have been shown to be effective," she explains, "but they don't seem to prevent heart attacks."
On the flip side, many herbs, vitamins, and minerals show promise in treating heart disease, are less expensive than drugs, and cause fewer side effects. "It's absolutely worth asking your cardiologist about supplements," says Mitchell Krucoff, M.D., a cardiologist and professor at Duke University Medical School. "If he or she is not open to the idea, find a new physician—being close-minded about alternative therapies is not acceptable anymore."