Eat Away Cholesterol: Diet as effective as drugs, say researchers

Researchers at the University of Toronto and St. Michael’s Hospital have shown that a vegetarian diet composed of specific plant foods can lower cholesterol as effectively as a drug treatment. The study compared a diet of known cholesterol-lowering, vegetarian foods to a standard cholesterol-reducing drug called lovastatin. The special diet lowered levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, known to cause clogging in coronary arteries, in subjects by almost 29%, compared to a 30.9% decrease in the lovastatin subjects. The special diet combined nuts (almonds), soy proteins, high-fibre foods such as oats and barley and a special margarine with plant sterols.

Lead author David Jenkins says 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 the month-long study, 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. The second group had the same low-fat diet, plus lovastatin. The last group had a diet high in four foods known to have cholesterol-lowering properties: nuts, soy protein, fibre foods and plant sterols.

Jenkins points out that large numbers of people with high cholesterol are being put on medication before they are able to give diet an adequate trial. He adds that while many people may still require drugs to lower their cholesterol, his team has demonstrated an effective alternative for those who are prepared to control their food choices.

University of Toronto, July 22, 2003