Natural Aid for High Cholesterol

Healthnotes Newswire (May 4, 2006)—Good news for people who take medication to help manage high cholesterol: a recent study reports that adding supplements containing a substance in plant oils known as stanols to their treatment can lower cholesterol levels even more.

Margarines fortified with stanols have already been shown to significantly lower cholesterol levels in people taking statin drugs such as atorvastatin (Lipitor) or simvastatin (Zocor). For people who don’t want to eat large quantities of these fortified foods, the new study shows that taking a supplement can work just as well.

Cholesterol is necessary for many bodily functions, such as bile production and hormone synthesis. However, too much circulating in the blood increases the risk of heart disease. The body has two sources of cholesterol: the liver and the diet. Saturated fats, like those found in animal products (butter, fatty meats, cream) and palm kernel oil, and trans fats (created in the process of making hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils) increase the amount of LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol in the blood.

The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends adding plant stanols and sterols to the diet to help lower cholesterol. Margarines such as Benecol contain about one-half a gram of plant stanols per one tablespoon serving, one-quarter of the recommended amount.

As an alternative to eating four tablespoons of margarine per day, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis studied whether taking stanols as a supplement might also lower cholesterol levels.

As published in the American Journal of Cardiology, 26 people already taking a cholesterol-lowering medication from the statin family of drugs took either a supplement containing 1.8 grams of plant stanols or a placebo for six weeks. The stanol supplement helped lower LDL cholesterol by more than 9% and total cholesterol by nearly 6%. The results were most pronounced for people who started with higher LDL cholesterol levels. No significant changes were seen in the placebo group. The stanol supplement was free of reported side effects.

According to a member of the research team, Dr. Curtis A. Spilburg, stanol supplements may allow certain people to decrease their statin dose and still reach their target LDL-cholesterol level. “These results are similar to those found with sterol-containing foods, but a tablet delivery system may be more attractive for individuals who prefer the consistency and convenience of pharmaceutical dosing.”

However, according to Alan R. Gaby, MD, chief science editor at Healthnotes, “In addition to lowering cholesterol levels, stanols inhibit absorption of beneficial nutrients such as vitamin E and beta-carotene, so more research is needed to determine whether the benefits of stanols outweigh their risks.”

(Am J Cardiol 2006;97:376–9)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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