The researchers analyzed the effects of sterol consumption in those under a heart-healthy diet and those who took statin drugs to lower blood cholesterol. A 10% reduction in the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or the bad cholesterol was documented following consumption of plant sterols. The results of this study can be seen in the American Journal of Cardiology.
Plant sterols were combined with a compound called lecithin to make it water-soluble. This combination was made into a tablet form before it could be given to the study participants. The 26 study participants were either given the sterol pill or a placebo, to be taken twice daily along with meals, for a period of 6 weeks. The reduction in LDL and total cholesterol in those who took the sterol pill was 9 and 6% respectively.
Furthermore, the beneficial effect of the pill was greater in those who had high levels of LDL, during the onset of the study. Maximal benefit of sterols may be seen only when instituted in the form of an additional therapy, that is in combination with diet and cholesterol-lowering drugs, report the researchers.
It has been recommended by the National Cholesterol Education Program that those with high cholesterol levels consume a sterol rich diet to lower the associated cardiovascular disease. However, some patients may find it difficult to adapt to a sterol diet. Margarine is the most popular form of food, known to contain high levels of plant sterols.
'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,' remarked the researchers.
Following promising results from this small yet valuable study, it might not be long before sterol-containing pills are made commercially available.