'Bad' Cholesterol: Supplement No Help?
Study: Policosanol Doesn't Lower High Levels of Cholesterol, Blood Fats
WebMD News Archive
May 16, 2006 -- The supplement policosanol may not live up to its
cholesterol-cutting claims, according to a new study.
The study appears in The Journal of the American Medical
Association. The researchers included Heiner Berthold, MD, PhD, of the
Drug Commission of the German Medical Association.
Berthold's team tested policosanol made in Cuba from sugar cane wax.
Policosanol is also made from wheat germ, rice bran, and beeswax; most
policosanol ads tout lipid-lowering effects, write Berthold and colleagues.
The study's bottom line: Policosanol was well tolerated but showed no
effects on cholesterol or blood fats in adults with high cholesterol or
combined hyperlipidemia (too much fat or lipids in the blood).
Participants were 143 white adults living in Germany. They all had high
cholesterol or combined hyperlipidemia (too much fat or lipids in the
First, the researchers asked participants to go on a low-cholesterol diet.
Six weeks later, they split participants into five treatment groups:
- Placebo pills containing no medicine or policosanol
- 10 daily milligrams of policosanol
- 20 daily milligrams of policosanol
- 40 daily milligrams of policosanol
- 80 daily milligrams of policosanol
The pills were taken once daily with the evening meal.
Participants took those pills -- while staying on the low-cholesterol diet
-- for 12 weeks. They also periodically provided blood samples after overnight
fasts and kept food diaries for part of the study.
About the Supplements
The supplements came from a Cuban company that had sponsored past studies,
most of which were done in Cuba, that showed positive cholesterol effects for
The German study had different results.
None of the five groups had more than a 10% drop in LDL "bad"
cholesterol levels during the study, the researchers report. Policosanol also
didn't show any significant changes in other cholesterol and blood fat
categories, including total cholesterol, HDL "good" cholesterol, and
In short, the policosanol supplement didn't beat the placebo.
No Serious Side Effects Seen
Policosanol was "well tolerated" and, like the placebo, showed no
serious side effects during the study, the researchers note.
The most commonly reported adverse effects during the study were bronchitis, back
pain, sore throat, upper respiratory
tract infection, and upset stomach, with no differences seen between the
policosanol and placebo groups.
Policosanol has also shown an "excellent" safety profile in other
studies, write Berthold and colleagues. However, they say more studies are
needed to check policosanol's safety and effectiveness.
"Still, more independent studies are required to counterbalance the vast
body of available positive trials," the researchers write.
Berthold's team notes that while policosanol has been used for "more
than a decade in clinical trials, there are still no data on patient
outcomes" such as death and illness due to cardiovascular problems.
The study was funded by a German company that made the placebo. That
company, Madaus AG -- along with its subsidiaries -- doesn't make or distribute
any lipid-lowering drugs, including statins, the journal notes.