Peruvian Cucumber May Help Cholesterol

Healthy Diet Still Best, Experts Say

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 30, 2002 -- Pills made from dried Peruvian cucumber can help your heart, a supplement manufacturer claims. Now a prominent nutritionist says the claim may be true.

The pills are called Cycladol. They contain dried caigua -- a hollow, cucumber-shaped plant from Peru. A small 1995 study by Peruvian doctors suggested that the pills cut "bad" LDL cholesterol levels by a third and raise "good" HDL cholesterol levels by more than a third.

Barbara Levine, PhD, co-director of the Human Nutrition Program at New York's Rockefeller University, says this is a very impressive result. She hasn't spoken with the Peruvian researchers but notes that their findings appeared in a respected journal -- The Journal of the North American Menopause Society.

"What was interesting to me is it had a potent effect in raising HDL and lowering LDL," Levine tells WebMD. "That is extensive for a dietary supplement. I have seen blood studies of patients in the U.S. who took Cycladol, and that is what we are seeing. This is really good. I do have a number of patients' charts showing actual lipid effects, and it corroborates the study findings."

Levine stresses that people who are taking cholesterol-lowering drugs should not switch to the supplement. And though she always advises people to check with a doctor before taking nutritional supplements, she says that Cycladol appears to be safe.

The 1995 study, by Gustavo F. Gonzales, MD, and colleagues of Peruana Cayetano Heridia University in Lima, Peru, found that it took daily doses of six caigua capsules to lower cholesterol. The study lasted 12 weeks.

One study isn't enough to convince Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director of the cardiovascular nutrition research program at Boston's Tufts University. Lichtenstein says she hasn't yet heard of Cycladol.

"To my knowledge, there are no dietary supplements that lower cholesterol, but it would be great if there was one," Lichtenstein tells WebMD. "I have a general rule: if a study isn't replicated at least twice by independent labs, I remain skeptical. So if this was one 1995 study, if it was extremely efficacious somebody would have replicated by now."

Meanwhile, Lichtenstein says that the best nutritional advice for people worried about cholesterol is to follow a heart-healthy diet. According to the American Heart Association, such a diet calls for:

  • Limiting saturated fats to 7%-10% of the day's total calories.
  • Limiting total fats to 30% or less of the day's total calories.
  • Eating fewer than 300 milligrams of cholesterol a day.
  • Limiting sodium intake to 2,400 milligrams a day.
  • Asking a dietitian -- or your doctor -- to tell you the right number of daily calories you need to stay healthy and reduce your cholesterol.
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