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Plant sterol pills significantly lower LDL cholesterol

A pill containing plant substances called sterols can help lower cholesterol, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The researchers studied patients who already were eating a heart-healthy diet and taking statin drugs to control cholesterol. The addition of plant sterols helped further lower total cholesterol and contributed to a nearly 10 percent reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the so-called "bad" cholesterol. Results of the study were published in the American Journal of Cardiology.

The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that those with elevated cholesterol eat foods containing plant sterols as a way to lower cardiovascular risk, but many sterol-containing foods are inconvenient for some patients.

Structurally similar to cholesterol, plant sterols can reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the gut by competing with cholesterol to get absorbed and transported into the body. When consumed in the diet, sterols are known to lower cholesterol levels, but sterols are not readily absorbed in the intestine unless they have been dissolved in something that the intestine can easily absorb. Because sterols are not water-soluble, past strategies have involved dissolving them in fat.

Most sterol-containing foods studied so far have been brands of margarine. Studies have found that a daily intake of one or two tablespoons of sterol-containing margarine could significantly lower LDL cholesterol. Some juices and puddings also contain plant sterols.

"One problem is many of our patients already have lowered their intake of fats and calories and don't use products like margarine on a regular basis," says Anne Carol Goldberg, M.D., lead author of the new study and associate professor of medicine at Washington University. "In addition, many of these people eat out regularly, and they can't easily take a particular brand of margarine to a restaurant."

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Contact: Jim Dryden
jdryden@wustl.edu
314-286-0110
Washington University School of Medicine
8-Mar-2006


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