in a randomized trial of adults without cardiovascular disease but at increased cardiovascular risk.
In contrast, those who took the low dose of a high-potency statin in the eight-arm comparative study showed a significant 38% drop in LDL cholesterol levels over 28 days, a performance that blew away the six supplements containing fish oil, cinnamon, garlic, turmeric, plant sterols, or red yeast rice.
The supplements showed little or no effect on any measured lipid biomarkers, which also included total cholesterol and triglycerides, or C-reactive protein (CRP), which reflects systemic inflammation.
The findings undercut the widespread heart-health marketing claims for such supplements and could potentially restore faith in statins for the many patients looking for alternatives, researchers say.
“We all see patients that have their medication lists littered with dietary supplements,” observed Luke J. Laffin, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. And it’s more than just heart patients who use them.
Almost $50 billion is spent on dietary supplements annually in the United States, and recent data suggest that more than three-fourths of the population use them, 18% of those based on specious heart-health claims, Dr. Laffin said in a Nov. 6 presentation at the American Heart Association scientific sessions.
The findings of the Supplements, Placebo, or Rosuvastatin Study (SPORT) and how they are framed for the public “are important for public health,” he said.
“As cardiologists, primary care doctors, and others, we really should use these results to have evidence-based discussions with patients” regarding the value of even low-dose statins and the supplements’ “lack of benefit,” said Dr. Laffin, lead author on the SPORT publication, which was published the same day in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Patients assigned to low-dose rosuvastatin showed a mean 24.4% drop in total cholesterol levels over 28 days, the study’s primary endpoint. That differed from the placebo group and those for each supplement at P < .001.
They also averaged a 19.2% decrease in serum triglycerides, P < .05 for all group comparisons. None of the six supplements was significantly different from placebo for change in levels of either total cholesterol or triglycerides.
Nor were there significant differences in adverse events across the groups; there were no adverse changes in liver or kidney function tests or glucose levels; and there were no signs of musculoskeletal symptoms, the published report notes.
How to message the results
The SPORT trial is valuable for “addressing the void of data on supplements and cardiovascular health,” Chiadi E. Ndumele, MD, PhD, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, said as the invited discussant following Dr. Laffin’s presentation.
But they also send a reassuring message about statins, he noted. In a recent study of statin-nonadherent patients, 80% “were worried about statin side effects as the primary reason for not taking their statin, and 72% preferred using natural supplements instead of taking their prescription therapy,” Dr. Ndumele said. “The reason for this is clearly mistrust, misinformation, and a lack of evidence.”
The next step, he proposed, should be to get the study’s positive message about statins to the public, and especially patients “who are hesitant about statin use.” The current study “underscores the fact that using a low dose of a high-potency statin is associated with a very, very low risk of side effects.”
At a media briefing on SPORT, Amit Khera, MD, agreed the randomized trial provides some needed evidence that can be discussed with patients. “If someone’s coming to see me for cholesterol, we can say definitively now, at least there is data that these [supplements] don’t help your cholesterol and statins do.” Dr. Khera directs the preventive cardiology program at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.
“I think for those who are there very specifically to lower their cholesterol, hopefully this will resonate,” he said.
“I personally didn’t see a lot of harms in using these supplements. But I also didn’t see any benefits,” Dr. Khera told this news organization.
“Now, if you’re taking them for other reasons, so be it. But if you need to lower your cholesterol for cardiovascular health reasons,” he said, “you need to know that they are minimally to not effective at all.”
But such supplements still “are not without harm,” Dr. Laffin proposed at the press conference. For example, they have potential for drug-drug interactions, “not only with cardiovascular medicines, but those taken for other reasons,” he said. “There are 90,000 supplements on the market in the United States today, and there are all kinds of potential safety issues associated with them.”
In patient discussions, Dr. Laffin said, “I do not think it’s good enough to say, you can waste your money [on supplements] as long as you’re taking your statin. These can actually be harmful in certain situations.”
SPORT, described as a single-center study, randomly assigned 199 participants from “throughout the Cleveland Clinic Health System in northeast Ohio” to one of the eight treatment groups. The investigators were blinded to treatment assignments, Dr. Laffin reported.