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'Bad' Cholesterol: Supplement No Help?

Study: Policosanol Doesn't Lower High Levels of Cholesterol, Blood Fats
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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, Supplements

Participants were 143 white adults living in Germany. They all had high cholesterol or combined hyperlipidemia (too much fat or lipids in the blood).

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 policosanol.

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 triglycerides.

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.

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Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

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Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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