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Food supplements in the fight against heart disease?

19 July 2016

Human heart

Heart attacks and strokes kill approximately one in three people worldwide and the situation is expected to worsen in the future due to an increased global prevalence of risk factors such as diabetes and obesity. This will continue to impose greater burdens on the health care systems worldwide.

Atherosclerosis is a process associated with inflammation and build up of fatty deposits in medium and large arteries, and is the major underlying cause of heart attacks and strokes. Current therapies against atherosclerosis are not fully effective in all patients and their prolonged use is sometimes associated with various side effects. Many drug discovery programs have tried to find alternatives without much success.

Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, cereal grains and olive oil have all been associated with many health benefits, and there has been considerable recent interest in natural compounds derived from food sources which are able to exert such health benefits, known as nutraceuticals, in the fight against heart disease.

In an article published in Nature Reviews Cardiology, Joe Moss and Dr Dipak Ramji from the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University have systematically reviewed the current literature on 14 nutraceuticals in the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis.

This exhaustive analysis of current literature examined the effects of these nutraceuticals on processes associated with atherosclerosis in cells cultured in a laboratory, in animal models of the disease and in human patients.

The authors found many studies demonstrating the beneficial effects of a number of well known nutraceuticals such as omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, hydroxytyrosol present in olive oil, dietary fibre, allicin present in garlic, phytosterols in plants, and flavanols in green tea and cocoa products.

Some less studied nutraceuticals, such as Coenzyme Q10, certain omega-6 fatty acids, curcumin present in turmeric and resveratrol in red wine, were also found to have many benefits in limiting atherosclerosis.

“The current literature points to immense promise on the use of nutraceuticals as a complementary strategy to current therapies in both the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis” said Dr Ramji, a co-author of the article.

“However, more research is required to fully understand how nutraceuticals mediate their beneficial effects. Additionally, larger, more robust clinical trials are required in the future before they can be widely used.

Two such trials on omega-3 fatty acids are already underway with results expected in the next three years. It is important that this is extended in the future to all the other nutraceuticals that show promise ”.

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