Eating four cholesterol-lowering foods each day can cut cholesterol levels as effectively as taking a first-generation statin drug, Canadian researchers report.
The only side effects seen with the diet, which includes large quantities of fiber and soy along with plant sterols and almonds, was “mild weight loss,” the study’s lead author, Dr. David J. A. Jenkins of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, told Reuters Health.
“We’re hoping to make cholesterol control within the grasp of the average person more than it has been,” he added. “The advice that’s been offered so far has left many people with no option other than to take a statin.”
Jenkins’ research, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is unique because some participants had previously participated in a study of statins, so he and his colleagues were able to compare the effects of diet and drugs in the same person.
The researchers instructed 66 people with High cholesterol to eat seven servings of foods containing viscous fiber - for example, a slice of oat bran bread, or two teaspoons of psyllium, or two cups of raw eggplant; seven servings of foods rich in soy protein, such as a cup of soy beverage or a soy burger; 5 teaspoons of margarine containing plant sterols; and 42 grams, or 1.5 ounces, of almonds.
Study participants were able to consume close to the required amount of almonds and plant sterols, but had a tougher time eating the full amount of fiber and soy. Fifty-five people completed the yearlong study.
At 12 weeks, participants’ level of “bad (LDL) cholesterol had dropped by 14 percent. One year later, it remained 13 percent below pre-study levels. Just under one third of study participants had LDL cholesterol reductions greater than 20 percent.
Among the study participants who slashed their bad cholesterol more than 20 percent - who, Jenkins and his team hypothesized, had adhered most closely to the diet -there was no difference in the results seen with the diet and with statin treatment.
The 20 percent-plus reduction is similar to that seen with first-generation statin drugs, Jenkins and his team note, which have been linked to a 25 percent to 35 percent reduction in death from heart disease.
He and his colleagues conclude that diets like those used in the study will become increasingly attractive to people who choose not to take statins for personal reasons or who experience side effects from the drugs, especially as more foods containing soy, fiber, almonds and plant sterols become available.
SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 2006.
Revision date: July 8, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD