Three popular herbal supplements sold in UK that may ‘pose heart risks

Professor Hugh Watkins on genetic medicines for heart disease

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Supplements can have tons of benefits. They can boost your immune system, slash your levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and more. But some supplements “may pose heart risks” when taken in certain contexts, according to Harvard Medical School, a leading healthcare institution in the US. The health body has outlined the main culprits.

The health body warned to “be careful” when taking the supplements. “Unlike prescription medications, supplements are often sold without evidence that they work or they’re safe,” it warned.

Red yeast rice

This is used in traditional Chinese medicine. But the market for red yeast rice is huge in the UK.

The supplement is made from a type of yeast that grows on white rice. It can come in pill form.

It’s often used to improve blood health. A substance in the supplement called monacolin K causes a drop in your “bad” cholesterol level, which in turn lowers your blood pressure. Because of this, it’s often used as a statin.

But when it’s used alongside statins, it can be dangerous, according to Harvard Medical School. It can even make your heart worse off rather than improve it.

Doctor Pieter Cohen, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School was quoted on the Harvard website saying: “Some products have little to none of the active ingredient, and others have the same amount as a low prescription dose. That may be fine if you’re not taking a statin, but if you are, you could be getting too much of the medication; that can cause muscle pain or even a life-threatening muscle breakdown that can damage other body systems.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, these types of symptoms may be down to myopathy. Myopathy describes muscle spasms and weakness which is caused by muscle fibres that are dysfunctioning.

Red yeast rice also has the “potential” to bring on acute liver injury, according to some doctors.

A recent case study, published in BMJ Case Reports, described a 64-year-old woman who got acute liver injury after six weeks of taking the supplement. Monacolin K was again thought to be responsible.

The dose she consumed was 1200 milligrams daily to lower her cholesterol.

The authors of the study said: “As this case demonstrates, red yeast rice supplement has the potential to cause severe adverse effects, such as acute liver injury.”

But this was only one case. Although there are several other cases of yeast reacting badly with the liver have been recorded, there are no broad studies showing that red yeast rice definitely causes liver failure.


The benefits of L-arginine are staggering. The amino acid supplement is one of the chemicals that makes up Nitric Oxide.

Nitric Oxide is well known to react with the walls of your blood vessels and trigger them to relax and open up.

As a result, L-arginine is sold to people who want to improve blood circulation and cut their blood pressure levels. And in some cases, have better erections.

But Harvard Health warns that people with heart disease shouldn’t consume it. It states: “L-arginine may make blood pressure dip too low if you’re already taking medications to treat the condition.”

Heart disease is when the artery that brings blood to your heart is blocked by fatty substances that have stuck to its walls. People often take statins to treat it.

“If you’re taking blood thinners, it may increase the risk for bleeding. And if you’re taking ACE inhibitors, it might cause your potassium levels to spike,” adds the health body.

Garlic pills
These are other supplements used to slash high blood pressure. Some studies have shown that it has the effect of cutting your blood pressure, although there is mixed evidence.

But like the supplements listed before, garlic supplements can have a similar effect where blood pressure drops too low.

If taken with blood thinners, you can have excessive bleeding. If taken with statins, you can damage your muscles, and with blood pressure drugs like warfarin, it can cause your blood pressure to drop too low.

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