New Research Casts Doubt on Popular Cholesterol-Lowering Supplement

Healthnotes Newswire (January 25, 2007)—Policosanol does not help reduce cholesterol levels, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

A by-product of the sugar-refining industry, policosanol has been alleged to lower cholesterol levels, making it a popular nutritional supplement that has even been added to formulas such as Bayer One-A-Day Cholesterol Plus.

Although numerous studies attest to policosanol’s lipid-lowering capabilities, most of the research was conducted by one group from Cuba—birthplace of the original policosanol product developed by Dalmer Labs, Inc. These studies concluded that policosanol, like commonly prescribed statin drugs, reduced levels of total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, while raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

In the past few years, researchers from other countries have attempted to replicate these results and have found that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. Using policosanol derived from sugar cane, sunflower seeds, and rice, these studies failed to show any beneficial effect of the supplement on cholesterol levels.

The new study was designed to further explore the effect of policosanol in 40 healthy people with elevated cholesterol. They were given either 20 mg of policosanol or a placebo each day for eight weeks, during which time they did not change their diet or exercise habits.

There were no significant differences in the levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, or C-reactive protein (a test used to estimate cardiovascular disease risk) between the two groups.

“Our finding that a 20-mg dose of sugar cane–derived policosanol lacks the efficacy to lower cholesterol augments the preexisting data from South Africa, Germany, and the Netherlands and conclusively shows that this supplement is not effective in lowering cholesterol in patients who are on a typical American diet,” the researchers concluded.

They added, “We would like to highlight the inconsistency between the negative results now published from five independent laboratories and the data published from Cuba, Argentina, and Russia before 2004. We hope to bring this discrepancy to the attention of healthcare providers and consumers of health supplements as a caution to use healthy skepticism when choosing supplemental products for lipid-lowering purposes.”

(Am J Clin Nutr 2006;84:1543–8)

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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