Several Herbs Look Promising for Lowering Cholesterol, But More Research Needed

BACKGROUND: Many herbs are used to lower blood cholesterol levels; however, the quality of the clinical trials with herbs has been variable. The authors of this paper conducted a systematic review of all of the clinical studies that studied the use of herbs for lowering cholesterol, evaluating the benefits, side effects, and quality of the studies.

RESEARCH: The researchers identified 25 controlled clinical trials involving 11 herbal medicines. The largest body of published studies focused on guggul, fenugreek, red yeast rice, and artichoke. Overall, the studies indicated that the use of these herbs (individually) reduces blood cholesterol levels from 10 to 33 percent. There are other herbs with limited support including Panax ginseng, yarrow, holy basil, and milk thistle.

RESULTS: Although the scientific quality of these studies was variable, the authors noted that patients had few adverse reactions or drug interactions while taking the herbs. "Many are used extensively in traditional medicine and culinary practices around the world, which supports their relative safety," the researchers noted.

IMPLICATIONS: The researchers wrote, "The evidence is not conclusive for any of the products, although preliminary clinical trials seem promising; further research is warranted."

Thompson-Coon JS, Ernst E., "Herbs for serum cholesterol reduction: a systematic review," Journal of Family Practice, 2003;52:468-478.

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