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In this study, 443 Swedish participants (70 to 88 years old) were randomly assigned to receive 200 mcg of selenium and 200 mg of coenzyme Q10, or placebo, once daily for four years. The participants were followed over five years with measurements of blood markers for heart disease and for cardiovascular mortality. Cardiac function was monitored by a test that shows how well the heart is working (echocardiography).
Results showed that the supplement group had a 53% lower rate of death from cardiovascular disease compared with the placebo group. The supplement group also had better heart function as determined by blood levels of N-terminal prohormone brain natriuretic peptide and echocardiography results compared with the placebo group at the end of the study.
The study authors comment that people with suboptimal levels of selenium, coenzyme Q10, or both, may have a higher risk of experiencing cardiovascular events, and point out that “the combination of selenium and coenzyme Q10 supplementation shows a highly significant risk reduction” in this study.
One limitation of these findings is that 215 people did not complete the study. Reasons for dropping out included too many pills to take (many participants took a lot of medication in addition to the prescribed supplements), age and inconvenience of participation, illness, and diarrhea. The authors would like to see a larger study with younger participants to clarify the role of selenium and coenzyme Q10 supplements in heart disease.
What we eat matters. Many people around the globe do not get enough of the nutrients they need to maintain excellent health and prevent disease. Prior research has linked low levels of selenium and coenzyme Q10 to a higher risk of heart disease, and poor dietary habits have also been strongly linked to heart disease. Clearly, what we eat matters when it comes to heart health. For optimal heart health, eat a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals and avoid excess saturated fat, sugar, and refined carbohydrates, and follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding other dietary restrictions.
Why selenium and coenzyme Q10 may help. Selenium is a mineral found in many foods including Brazil nuts, tuna, and poultry. Selenium’s heart-protecting effects include antioxidant activity that helps protect cells from damage. The study authors point out that selenium supplementation may be especially important in parts of the world where the soil is low in selenium such as Scandinavia. It is not clear if the study findings presented here would be the same with other populations. Coenzyme Q10 is also important as an antioxidant and while it is found in all cells in the body it is found in abundance in heart muscle. Medications, aging, and various health conditions can lower the body’s coenzyme Q10 levels.
When to take supplements. Talk with a knowledgeable doctor about what supplements may be important for you based on your age and health conditions, and about the potential risks and benefits.
(Int J Cardiol 2012 doi:10.1016/j.ijcard.2012.04.156)