Diet Changes As Good As Statins For Cholesterol Reduction

A combination of cholesterol lowering foods can achieve similar cholesterol lowering results to statins according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005.

The research, conducted by Canadian scientists, involved the comparison of a diet rich in foods known to reduce cholesterol with a popular statin known as lovastatin.

34 participants who were suffering from high cholesterol completed the study which consisted of three one month phases. The first phase was a whole-wheat based diet (control diet), the second phases was the same whole-wheat diet plus 20mg per day of lovastatin, while the final phase consisted of a diet based on four cholesterol lowering components: 1g/1000kcal of plant sterols, 10g/1000kcal of soluble fiber which came from oats, barley, and psyllium, 21.4g/1000kcal of soy protein, and 14g/1000kcal of almonds.

The researchers found that LDL cholesterol was reduced by 29.6% for the cholesterol lowering diet compared to 33.3% for the statin diet. 27 of the 36 participants reduced their cholesterol levels to within the safe range on the statin compared to 24 participants on the cholesterol lowering diet. Nine of the participants achieved better results on the cholesterol lowering diet than from the statin alone. The researchers also calculated that participants dropped their 10 year risk of coronary heart disease from 11.4% to 8.4% on the cholesterol lowering diet and from 11.6% to 7.7% on the statin.

Cholesterol is thought to be one of the most important risk factors for coronary heart disease. Researchers have calculated that a 1% reduction in LDL cholesterol levels results in a 1.5% decrease in the risk of coronary heart disease.

Components of the cholesterol lowering diet were only included if they had a scientifically verified mechanism of action. Plant sterols reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines. Soluble fiber increases the excretion of bile acids from the body leading to an increase in the production of bile acids in the liver. Bile acids are produced by the oxidation of cholesterol so an increase in bile acid production increases the rate of cholesterol metabolism. Soy protein increases the function of LDL receptors in hepatic cells leading to an increase in the uptake of LDL cholesterol by the liver. Almonds contain numerous cholesterol lowering substances including plant sterols, fiber, and mono-unsaturated fat which increases HDL cholesterol levels while lowering LDL cholesterol.

Rich sources of soluble fiber include peas, beans, oats, barley, pears, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and psyllium. Sources of plant sterols include margarines, most vegetable oils, peanuts, blueberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower.