Curb cholesterol: new research tells how

We all need cholesterol for our bodies to function properly. But some of us produce too much cholesterol, which can increase the risk of heart disease. Though dietary changes are certainly one approach to help lower cholesterol levels, more intervention may be necessary. Popular natural cholesterol-lowering supplements include garlic, vitamin B-3, artichoke and fibre.

According to recent studies from the University of Helsinki, Finland, however, there are two more natural supplements that should be considered when trying to lower high cholesterol: plant sterols and plain old calcium and magnesium! Plant sterols are widely popular due to their immune-enhancing properties. Sterols appear to lower cholesterol by blocking its absorption along the gastrointenstinal tract.

Two studies looked into how plant sterols and calcium/magnesium work together to reduce cholesterol in an animal model. In the first, researchers fed rats a high-cholesterol diet and gave some of them plant sterols along with calcium and magnesium. They found that the combination prevented the high-cholesterol diet from raising blood cholesterol levels. The nutrients also had beneficial effects on heart health and obesity in the test subjects.

The second study came up with similarly promising results. Here, the sterol-mineral combination “effectively prevented…increases in total and LDL cholesterols and 24-hour systolic and mean blood pressures” after rats were fed a high-cholesterol diet. The supplements also “markedly improved endothelial function”—a major indicator of heart health. Indeed, those rats given the sterols and calcium/magnesium lived 60 per cent longer than those not given the supplements! Research on plant sterols along with calcium and magnesium to lower cholesterol in humans will surely follow.

Sources: J Nutr 2002 Feb;132(2):231-7; Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2001 Jun;11(3):158-67