Fiber in Oats and Beans Helps Lower Cholesterol
Feb. 4, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Psyllium fiber, in combination with a low-fat
diet, lowers cholesterol significantly more than a low-fat diet alone,
according to a report in the February issue of the American Journal of
Clinical Nutrition. Experts say regular intake of psyllium fiber helps
lower the risk of heart disease.
Researchers reviewed 19 studies of men and women with mildly to moderately
high cholesterol. In each study, participants received 10.2 grams per day of
either psyllium fiber, provided as Metamucil, or placebo. But beforehand,
subjects followed the American Heart Association Step I diet for eight weeks or
In an analysis that combined study results, the data showed that psyllium
fiber lowered total cholesterol an extra 4% and LDL ("bad") cholesterol
an extra 7% over the placebo.
Additionally, psyllium fiber did not significantly affect HDL
("good") cholesterol or triglycerides. Though older adults showed
greater reductions, the treatment effect was consistent between sexes and there
were no clinically significant effects on vital signs and nutritional
The researchers also reviewed the data on the safety of psyllium consumption
and found that the adverse events were similar to placebo; symptoms involving
digestive problems were reported in both groups.
"Regular intake of psyllium fiber is a safe and effective way to lower
serum cholesterol," says James Anderson, MD, an endocrinologist at the VA
Medical Center and professor of medicine at the University of Kentucky, in
Lexington. "And a 5% reduction in serum cholesterol translates to a 15%
reduction in the risk of heart disease." Anderson tells WebMD that a
low-fat diet may not always be enough.
"The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) estimates that 30% of
Americans have undesirably high cholesterol levels," says Anderson.
"And although a low-fat diet is the primary intervention, diet alone may
not be enough for the 7% with coronary artery disease or severely high
cholesterol." Anderson tells WebMD that the NCEP recommends stepwise
reductions in dietary fat and cholesterol, reserving drug therapy for those who
"The NCEP recommends that fat should not exceed 30% of total calories
and saturated fat should not exceed 10%," says Cindy Moore, MS, RD, the
director of nutritional therapy at the Cleveland Clinic and spokesperson for
the American Dietetic Association.
"But rather than focusing on foods to avoid, we should focus on food
substitutions and portion control. That means more servings of fruits,
vegetables, and whole grains," says Moore. "At the same time, it means
fewer servings of meats and high-fat dairy products. It's also possible to get
psyllium from dietary sources like oats and dried peas and beans." Moore
tells WebMD that questions about psyllium fiber remain, and the researchers
"In a recent study, a greater response in LDL cholesterol was observed
in men," says Anderson. "And in previous studies, older adults showed
greater reductions. Clearly, additional research is needed to clarify the
effects of psyllium in population subgroups."
Anderson tells WebMD that psyllium is a natural source of fiber that has
been used as a laxative for over 60 years. Though its mechanism of action is
unclear, data suggest that it lowers serum cholesterol by increasing bile acid,
decreasing absorption of fat and cholesterol, and inhibiting production of
cholesterol by the liver. Two years ago, the FDA authorized manufacturers and
distributors to claim that foods containing 1.7 grams of psyllium per serving
reduce the risk of heart disease.
The study was funded in part by the Proctor & Gamble Company, maker of