The study, published in the July 23 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, compared a diet of known cholesterol-lowering, vegetarian foods to a standard cholesterol-reducing drug called lovastatin. The special diet lowered levels of LDL cholesterol - the "bad" cholesterol known to cause clogging in coronary arteries - in subjects by almost 29 per cent, compared to a 30.9 per cent decrease in the lovastatin subjects. The special diet combined nuts (almonds), soy proteins, viscous fibre (high-fibre) foods such as oats and barely and a special margarine with plant sterols (found in leafy green vegetables and vegetable oils).
Lead author David Jenkins, a professor in U of T's Department of Nutritional Sciences and director of the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre at St. Michael's Hospital, believes the reason these foods work so well to reduce cholesterol is that humans may be evolutionarily adapted to what has been called the "ape diet," a diet very high in fibre, nuts, vegetable proteins and plant sterols.
He adds the study could have far-reaching implications for public health. "As we age, we tend to get raised cholesterol, which in turn increases our risk of heart disease. This study shows that people now have a dietary alternative to drugs to control their cholesterol, at least initially." Jenkins notes the diet can also be used to maintain normal cholesterol levels.
In this month-long study, a follow-up to one released December 2002, 46 men and women with raised cholesterol were randomly assigned to one of three vegetarian diet groups. The control group ate meals low in saturated fats (such as those found in animal products like beef and butter). The second group had the same low fat diet, plus a dail
Contact: Lanna Crucefix
University of Toronto