By Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD
Healthnotes Newswire (October 22, 2009)—Metabolic syndrome is a condition defined by the presence of several risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. These risk factors include high blood pressure, high triglycerides (fat in the blood), low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, insulin resistance or high blood sugar, and carrying excess weight around the belly and upper body (central obesity).
It’s vitally important to identify ways to help manage metabolic syndrome, as up to 25% of US adults have this condition. A new study suggests that stanols, naturally occurring components of healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, and some vegetable oils, may improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels alone, and also in combination with simvastatin, a common cholesterol-lowering medication. Simvastatin, sold under the brand name Zocor, is from the HMG-CoA reductase inhibitor drug family, sometimes referred to as “statins.”
Researchers studied the effects of a stanol-supplemented yogurt drink, taken both with and without a statin medication, on heart disease risk factors. Thirty-six people were randomly selected for one of four groups:
• Placebo (no treatment at all)
• A placebo yogurt drink (no stanols) plus a daily dose of 10 mg per day of simvastatin, a cholesterol-lowering medication
• A yogurt drink containing 2 grams per day of stanols plus a placebo medication (no statin)
• A yogurt drink containing 2 grams of stanols plus a daily dose of 10 mg of simvastatin
After nine weeks, the researchers found:
• The stanol-supplemented yogurt drink alone lowered non-HDL (that is, total and LDL or “bad” cholesterol) and triglyceride levels by 12.8% and 27.5%, respectively.
• The simvastatin medication alone lowered non-HDL-cholesterol and triglyceride levels by 30.7% and 21.7%, respectively.
• The stanol-supplemented yogurt drink plus simvastatin lowered non-HDL-cholesterol and triglyceride levels by 35.4% and 32.7%, respectively.
• None of the treatments significantly changed other markers of heart disease risk, such as blood levels of free fatty acids and markers for low-grade inflammation and dysfunction of cells lining the blood vessels (endothelial cells).
Should you supplement stanols?
If you are thinking about supplementing with stanols, keep the following key points in mind:
• The researchers noted no negative or harmful effects in the study, suggesting that stanol supplements are safe for most people. However, to limit the risk of negative drug-supplement interactions and other health problems, always ask your doctor or pharmacist if specific supplements are safe for you before taking them.
• Stanols alone did not lower “bad” cholesterol levels nearly as well as a commonly prescribed cholesterol-lowering medication (simvastatin). Do not replace your cholesterol-lowering medications with stanols and expect to obtain the same cholesterol-lowering benefit.
• The dose of stanols used in the study was 2 grams per day. If you take a lower dose, you may not obtain the cholesterol or triglyceride-lowering benefits seen in the research.
• The stanol supplements seemed particularly effective for lowering triglycerides. If high triglyceride levels are a problem for you, stanols may be worth a try.
• Unlike medication, a stanol supplement is unlikely to be covered by insurance, so plan to pay out-of-pocket costs if you want to try this approach.
• The foods that contain stanols—fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and beans—are a healthy addition to any diet. Other studies suggest that when eaten regularly, these foods can lower heart disease risk.
(J Nutr 2009;139:1143-49)
Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by The New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.
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