Plant Sterols May Help Lower Cholesterol
Heart-Healthy Benefits Seen in Diabetic Patients
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 deciliter
- HDL ("good") cholesterol: 40 milligrams per deciliter or higher
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.