Reduce Cholesterol in People with Diabetes

Reduce Cholesterol in People with Diabetes

Healthnotes Newswire (September 1, 2005)—The cholesterol-lowering effects of plant sterols are similar in people with or without diabetes, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2005;81:1351–8).

Plant sterols are components found in the fats of some plant foods such as soy, other beans, lentils, peas, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Plant sterols are similar in structure to cholesterol, and studies have found that plant sterols can block cholesterol absorption in the digestive tract. Research has found that eating a diet rich in foods containing plant sterols can reduce cardiac risk by lowering total LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels in healthy people, people with high cholesterol, and people with diabetes, without affecting the levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol.

Type 2 diabetes, also called adult onset diabetes, is a disease in which the body can no longer regulate blood sugar levels. It is believed to be caused in part by over-consumption of refined sugar and affects more than 17 million people in the United States. People with diabetes are at higher risk for high cholesterol and heart disease.

Twenty-nine people between ages 40 and 80 who had high cholesterol participated in the current study; 14 of them had diabetes and 15 did not. They were all assigned to eat a diet designed to improve blood sugar control for 21 days, and randomly assigned to eat the diet alone or with an added 1.8 grams of supplemental plant sterols (in enriched margarine) per day. This test was repeated with the diet assignments reversed after a 28-day period of normal, unrestricted eating. Blood was taken at the beginning of the study and at the end of each test period.

Both total and LDL cholesterol levels were lower in all participants after eating the diet with plant sterols: total cholesterol levels dropped 14.6% in those with diabetes and 10.4% in people without diabetes, and LDL-cholesterol levels fell 26.8% in diabetics and 15.1% in nondiabetics. The levels of non–HDL cholesterol, considered to be an accurate predictor of cardiac risk, decreased 20.2% in the participants with diabetes after eating the diet with sterols. Although these improvements in lipid levels tended to be greater in people with diabetes than in people without diabetes, this difference was not statistically significant.

The results of this study are consistent with those from earlier studies that have observed cholesterol-lowering effects of plant sterols. They further suggest that people with diabetes benefit as much as people without diabetes. People with diabetes can be encouraged to eat plenty of sterol-rich foods in addition to fruits and vegetables to reduce cardiac risk. Food products enriched with sterols, such as certain margarines, can also be considered.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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