The organisation that advises the UK medical community on treating patients has told doctors and nurses they should not recommend cholesterol-reducing functional foods to prevent cardiovascular disease.
The London-based National Institute for Clinical Excellence — or NICE — said in guidance issued on lipid modification that "people should not routinely be recommended to take plant sterols and stanols for the primary prevention of CVD."
It added: "Plant sterols and stanols have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, but it is not known whether the consumption of plant sterols as part of a low-fat diet will provide worthwhile additional benefit and whether they reduce CVD events.
"There is a need for trials to test both efficacy and effectiveness of plant sterols and stanols in people who are at high risk of a first CVD event. These trials should test whether plant sterols or stanols change lipid profiles and reduce CVD events under best possible conditions."
The news was a blow to producers of cholesterol-reducing products, which constituted a market worth $230 million in the UK last year, according to Nielsen figures. It has become increasingly common in the country for manufacturers of functional foods in general — not just those with cholesterol-reducing properties — to work closely with the medical community in a bid to increase sales through recommendations by doctors.
Trevor Gorin, director of global media relations at Unilever, which produces the Flora Pro.Activ range of sterol-based cholesterol-reducing drinks, yoghurts and spreads, said: ?"We are disappointed that doctors are being told not to recommend plant sterol-containing foods. Although NICE have concluded that there may not be direct evidence to clearly say that substances including plant sterols and stanols prevent cardiovascular disease, there are 140 studies to show that plant sterols significantly lower cholesterol and there is strong evidence to show that lowering cholesterol reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease."
NICE also said medics should steer clear of advising patients to take Omega-3 dietary supplements in a bid to head off CVD.