U.S. consumer sales of dietary supplement products aimed at heart health grew 8 percent to nearly $2 billion in 2009, according to Nutrition Business Journal estimates. Omega-3 supplements, not surprisingly, generated the lion’s share of these sales. Other top cardiovascular-health supplements include CoQ10 and vitamin E.

In the world of supplements, heart health is a leading condition-specific category. However, supplements claim only a small fraction of the overall dollars U.S. consumers spend annually on cardiovascular health products. Cholesterol-lowering statins and other prescription drugs make up nearly 90% of sales in this category, NBJ reports.

This could shift, however, as consumers grow increasingly wary of the side effects associated with cholesterol-lowering drugs and shift their focus to heart-disease prevention. The expanding body of science demonstrating the cardio benefits of such as omega-3s and CoQ10 and and the development of new natural cardio ingredients and products is also likely to continue driving sales of heart-health supplements.

Roadblocks ahead for heart-health supplement market

Of course, as Functional Ingredients magazine noted recently, companies selling cardio supplement products are challenged with how to explain the health benefits of their offerings to consumers in a manner compliant with the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA).

“Both the FTC and FDA are making it very difficult to clearly communicate the benefits to consumers, even when there is good science supporting the market positioning,” Jeremy Moore, director of marketing and strategic development at Stratum Nutrition told Functional Ingredients.

The supplement industry is also facing growing competition from pharma players willing to pay the research and marketing money necessary to move tried-and-true natural products over to the drug side.

The prescription omega-3 drug Lovaza is a powerful case in point. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) owns the rights to market Lovaza in the United States. The drug—which is essentially a high-dose DHA and EPA product—reached “blockbuster” status in 2009, with U.S. sales reaching $758 million and global sales surpassing the $1 billion mark. In comparison, U.S. consumer sales of over-the-counter fish oil supplements totaled $976 million in 2009, according to NBJ estimates. This means that Lovaza sales are poised to surpass the sales of all fish oil supplements combined in the very near future.

The drug company Amarin Corp. is currently testing its own omega-3 derived prescription drug and is expected to file for U.S. regulatory approval this year. Both Lovaza and Amarin’s drug are designed to treat patients with very high levels of triglycerides, a blood fat connected to heart disease.

An estimated 79.4 million American adults (one in three) have one or more types of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and nearly 2,400 Americans die of CVD annually. This means that heart-related diseases claim more lives each year than cancer, chronic lower-respiratory diseases, accidents and diabetes combined.

Nutrition Business Journal's upcoming 2011 Integrative Medicine Report provides a breakdown of the cardiovascular health product market and numerous other condition-specific segments by supplement, prescription and over-the-counter drug sales.