Plant Sterols May Help Lower Cholesterol
Heart-Healthy Benefits Seen in Diabetic Patients
WebMD News Archive
June 17, 2005 -- Looking to lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol? Plant
chemicals called sterols might help, say Canadian researchers in The
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Plant sterols resemble cholesterol but have been shown to block
cholesterol's absorption and lower blood cholesterol beyond diet. They are
minimally absorbed by the intestines, write McGill University's Peter J.H.
Jones and colleagues.
Jones added a plant sterol mixture to margarine for the study. The sterol
mix came from Forbes Medi-Tech Inc. Jones is a consultant for that company,
says the journal.
Plant sterols are already on the market in various products, including
cholesterol-lowering margarines such as Take Control and Benecol.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in the body. The body makes
and uses it, and cholesterol is also found in many animal-based foods. Excess
cholesterol settles in the walls of blood vessels, including those of the
heart, which can reduce blood flow and lead to heart disease.
The CDC estimates that 105 million Americans have cholesterol levels that
are above desirable levels, which puts them at risk for heart disease.
Desirable or optimal levels for people with or without heart disease are as
follows, says the CDC:
- Total cholesterol: Less than 200 milligrams per deciliter
- LDL ("bad") cholesterol: Less than 100 milligrams per
- HDL ("good") cholesterol: 40 milligrams per deciliter or
- Triglycerides: Less than 150 milligrams per deciliter
Jones' study was small, with 29 participants. All had high cholesterol, and
14 also had type 2 diabetes and were slightly overweight. Participants were
40-80 years old, averaging in their mid-50s. None exercised.
At the study's start blood cholesterol levels were measured. Next, the group
was put on a low-fat diet. Everyone had to eat breakfast at the lab; lunches
and dinners were taken home.
The lab-based breakfasts were important. They included toast with margarine
containing a secret ingredient. The researchers added a plant sterol or a
placebo powder (cornstarch) to the margarine. For 21 days, participants got one
or the other spread on their morning toast.
Doable in the Real World?
The plan didn't totally mirror real life. For one thing, the participants
didn't have to cook or select their meals. They also didn't have to worry about
portion size, since the food was provided for them.
Plus, alcohol and coffee were banned. So were snacks, except for decaf,
calorie-free sodas, and herbal teas made by McGill's kitchen staff.
Calories were adjusted, when needed, to keep everyone at their starting
weight. Sterols in commercial products may or may not match the amounts used in