Kids Lower Cholesterol With Help From a New Margarine
May 5, 2000 -- Using a new type of margarine lowers cholesterol in healthy
children and gives them a head start on avoiding the life-long process of
developing heart disease, according to a study from Finland that appears in the
April issue of The Journal of Pediatrics.
In addition, the investigators find that this new spread, called plant
stanol ester margarine but sold as Benecol, has no bad side effects in the
short run for healthy children who already consume a low-saturated-fat,
The margarine is derived from pine tree wood pulp and works by blocking the
absorption of cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract.
"Finland is a country with a high death rate from [heart] disease,"
Anne Tammi, MD, tells WebMD. "Most children in our country have
[cholesterol levels] much higher than recommended. We wanted to study whether
plant stanol margarine would further decrease ? cholesterol in healthy children
who had been on a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol for years."
Tammi is a researcher at the University of Turku in Finland and one of the
"There is a consensus today that [heart] disease has it roots in very
early childhood," Alpo Vuorio, MD, tells Web MD. "The take-home message
here is that stanol ester spread offers an effective and safe way to lower
[overall] cholesterol and LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) without side
effects." Vuorio, a University of Helsinki researcher, led an earlier study
on the new margarine.
The 72 children who completed this latest study also are participants in
another trial in Finland that is looking at whether children will avoid
developing heart disease if they watch their diet from birth. In the study,
each day for three months they replaced their regular margarines with 20 grams
of the stanol ester spread. To put that in perspective, there are eight grams
of stanol ester in one and a half teaspoons.
Blood tests to measure the total cholesterol, LDL "bad" cholesterol
and HDL "good" cholesterol, were taken before and after the study.
Using the stanol ester margarine decreased the total cholesterol over 5% and
decreased "bad" cholesterol by over 7%. Although the HDL did not
change, the effect was still positive, because ratio to total cholesterol count
Should parents include stanol ester margarine in the diet of a healthy
"[For now], we are encouraging parents to supply their children with a
diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol," Tammi says. "This provides
a cholesterol reduction of about 5% to 10% if constantly followed."
Linda Van Horn, PhD, a preventive medicine expert at Northwestern University
who was not involved in the study, agrees.
"Try diet first," she tells WebMD. "That means less than 30% fat
and less than 10% saturated fat. If the child is not adhering to a low-fat
diet, then you might add plant stanol ester margarine with the supervision of a
health professional. Parents shouldn't think that you can give a child a stanol
ester and all the cholesterol problems will melt away."