Sesame Seeds Can Lower Cholesterol

By Maureen Williams, ND

Healthnotes Newswire (November 10, 2005)—Eating ground toasted sesame seeds can lower total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, according to a study published in Nutrition Research (2005;25:559–67).

For centuries people have eaten sesame seeds to promote good health. They are rich in unsaturated fats, protein, fiber, and lignans. Lignans are compounds found in plant fibers that have documented anticancer, antioxidant, and antimicrobial effects. Studies have found that components of sesame seeds act as antioxidants, protect the liver, and prevent high blood pressure. Lignans from sesame seeds have demonstrated the ability to reduce both total- and LDL-cholesterol levels, which contribute to heart attack risk.

Twenty-one healthy people with total cholesterol levels higher than 240 mg/dl participated in the new study. During the first two weeks, they were instructed to eat in accordance with the National Cholesterol Education Program Step 1 diet. On the Step 1 diet, no more than 30% of daily calories are from fat and no more than 10% are from saturated fat. During the next four-week phase, the participants replaced some of their calories with a sesame supplement providing 40 grams (about one and a half ounces) of ground toasted sesame seeds per day. The sesame was prepared with wheat flour and sweeteners and could be made into balls to be eaten as snacks. During the final four weeks of the study, the group did not eat sesame and resumed their usual diets. Blood tests were done after the two-week Step 1 diet, after the four weeks with sesame, and after the four weeks without sesame. The average total cholesterol level was 6.4% lower and the LDL-cholesterol level was 9.5% lower at the end of the sesame phase compared with the end of the Step 1 phase. Four weeks after stopping the sesame supplement, cholesterol levels were the same as they were before starting sesame (after the Step 1 phase).

These results suggest that eating sesame seeds can reduce cholesterol levels. Through this action, sesame seeds might reduce the risk of heart attack. A number of previous studies have found similar effects from eating nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pecans, macadamias, and pistachios. Sesame seeds are similar to nuts in that they are low in saturated fats and rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Other components of sesame seeds and nuts, such as fiber and lignans, might further contribute to their beneficial effects on cholesterol levels. If further research confirms these findings, then other, longer studies should be done to determine the extent of sesame seeds’ cholesterol-lowering power.

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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