Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have investigated the role of plant sterols in cholesterol lowering ability. They have found that pills containing plant substances called sterols which can help lower cholesterol.
The study samples were patients already on a heart-healthy diet and taking statin drugs to control cholesterol. They were asked to add plant sterol pill to the diet. Over six weeks, half were randomly assigned to take inactive placebo pills while the rest took sterol tablets. All patients ingested four tablets, twice daily with meals, while continuing to take statin drugs.
The addition helped further lower total cholesterol and contributed to a nearly 10 percent reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. The findings appear in the American Journal of Cardiology.
Plant sterols are similar to cholesterol in structure and can reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the gut by competing with cholesterol to get absorbed and transported into the body.
Most sterol-containing foods studied so far have been brands of margarine. The plant compounds were combined with a substance called lecithin and compressed into tablets. When mixed with lecithin, the normally insoluble sterols are able to dissolve in water and get absorbed in the intestine.
"Those who started with higher LDL got a bigger response, a bigger drop in their LDL, when they added plant sterols to their regimen. This type of treatment would be in addition to dietary changes and other medication. There probably are some people who have very mild abnormalities in cholesterol who could get by with a sterol supplement alone, but people with higher cholesterol levels will need medication, too. They'll take plant sterols in addition to other therapies and benefit from the additive effect we observed in this study," Goldberg the lead researcher says.
As a precautionary measure she puts it that, "We used a small sample size, but we still saw a significant effect."
The pills of plant sterols used in the study are not yet commercially available.