Policosanol, touted as a natural way to treat High cholesterol levels, appears to be useless, German investigators report in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association.
Policosanol is an extract of the waxy coating of sugar cane and other plants, and multiple trials have demonstrated that it safely lowers lipid levels. However, Dr. Heiner K. Berthold and his colleagues note that almost all of these studies came from one group in Cuba, whose research was funded by Dalmer Laboratories, which markets policosanol.
In an attempt to confirm their findings, Berthold, from the Drug Commission of the German Medical Association in Berlin, and his team performed a “rigorously controlled” multicenter study comparing Cuban sugar cane-derived policosanol with an inactive “placebo” supplement.
Their study involved 143 Caucasian adults with LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels of at least 150 milligrams per deciliter.
Participants were randomly assigned to policosanol at doses of 10, 20, 40 or 80 milligrams daily or placebo. After 12 weeks, the researchers saw no statistically or clinically significant effect on LDL cholesterol at any dose.
Similarly, the investigators report, there were no significant differences among the groups in HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, total cholesterol, very low density-cholesterol, triglycerides, or lipoprotein(a).
Berthold’s team concludes that “more independent studies are required to counterbalance the vast body of available positive trials.” They also hope to see trials showing patient-related outcomes, such as cardiovascular illness and mortality.
The study was sponsored by Madaus AG, an international company specializing in plant-derived drugs, which does not manufacture or distribute any cholesterol-lowering drugs.
SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, May 17, 2006.
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD