Plant Sterols in O.J. Reduce Cholesterol
Adding plant sterols to orange juice lowers cholesterol levels, which can protect against heart disease, reports Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology (2004;24:e24–8).
Plant sterols (phytosterols) are found in the fats of some plant foods such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, lentils, and peas. Phytosterols can lower both total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL; “bad”) cholesterol as they don’t allow as much cholesterol to be absorbed during digestion. People with high levels of total and LDL cholesterol are more likely to develop heart and blood vessel disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
Eating more foods naturally rich in phytosterols, such as soy foods and nuts, is a good way to lower high cholesterol levels. Studies have shown that eating foods fortified with phytosterols, including margarine spreads, salad dressing, yogurt, and muffins, can also improve cholesterol levels. A recent review of research on these foods concluded that eating 2 grams per day of phytosterols in fatty foods such as margarine could reduce LDL cholesterol levels by 10%. Studies that looked at the effects of eating low-fat and nonfat foods with added phytosterols have had mixed results.
In the current study, 72 people with high LDL cholesterol were randomly assigned to either drink orange juice with phytosterols or plain orange juice for eight weeks. All were asked to eat their usual diet and to drink 8 ounces of the juice twice a day with meals. The fortified orange juice provided 2 grams of phytosterols each day. At the end of the study, total and LDL cholesterol levels were significantly lower in those receiving the phytosterols: total cholesterol levels dropped more than 7% and LDL cholesterol levels dropped more than 12%. In contrast, no changes were seen in those receiving the plain orange juice.
This study shows that drinking orange juice fortified with phytosterols with meals can significantly reduce total and LDL cholesterol levels. Further studies are needed to determine whether other phytosterol-enriched low- and non-fat foods would be effective, and what would be the best time to eat them. Studies have suggested that phytosterols might have other health benefits such as preventing cancer and plaque formation on blood vessel walls. Foods naturally rich in phytosterols also contain healthy substances like fiber, essential fatty acids, and antioxidant nutrients.
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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