New sterol spread can reduce bad cholesterol

ATLANTA, Nov. 8 -- A low-fat spread made from vegetable oil with added sterol esters could reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke for millions of people, according to a study presented today at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions.

Sterol esters are similar to cholesterol, which is found in meat and dairy products. But sterols are derived from plant oils. The substances are structurally similar to cholesterol so they interfere with cholesterol absorption in the intestines.

The good news is that the sterol spread seems to lower LDL -- low-density lipoprotein, the so-called "bad" cholesterol -- without lowering HDL, also known as the "good" cholesterol, says lead researcher Kevin C. Maki, Ph.D., director of the Nutrition and Metabolism Research Unit at the Chicago Center for Clinical Research.

"From a public health standpoint, high cholesterol levels are a huge problem. Roughly half of the U.S. population has high cholesterol," he says. "If we can find more non-drug options that will help people lower their cholesterol levels, it would have a great impact on reducing their risk of cardiovascular disease."

There are two FDA-approved cholesterol-lowering spreads. The one used in this study, Take Control, contains vegetable oil sterol esters from soybeans. The other spread, Benecol, contains plant stanol esters, which come from wood pulp from pine trees. The stanol-based spread has been used in Finland since 1995. The spreads won U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval this year and are sold in grocery stores.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that forms deposits in the blood vessel. Blood vessels that become severely blocked by cholesterol deposits are unable to supply blood to the heart or brain, triggering a heart attack or stroke. In a study of 224 people with cholesterol levels in the mildly to moderately high range, the spread lowered cholesterol levels at doses of 1 to 2 grams per day over a five week period, Maki

Contact: Carole Bullock
American Heart Association

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