A recent German clinical trial found that artichoke leaf extract (ALE) significantly reduced levels of 'bad' cholesterol in people with high cholesterol. However there is little further evidence to confirm the benefits.
Dr Ann Walker, from the University of Reading's Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition, said: "We are very keen to extend this work to people with more moderately raised levels. This study ties in well with other studies that we have run at the University which showed that ALE can be helpful for the relief of minor digestive problems."
Sales of foods designed to improve heart health are rapidly growing, and were worth 100.7 stg in the UK alone during 2002, with forecast annual growth of 7.6 per cent to 2007, according to Datamonitor.
A team at the University of Essen recently reported that an ALE preparation was significantly better than placebo in alleviating symptoms of functional dyspepsia.
However a Cochrane review on the extract's effects on hypercholesterolaemia, updated in 2002, found that it was supported by few data from rigorous clinical trials. Beneficial effects are reported, the evidence however is not compelling. More rigorous clinical trials assessing larger patient samples over longer intervention periods are needed to establish whether ALE is an effective and safe treatment option for patients with hypercholesterolaemia, it concluded.
According to the World Health Organisation, almost one fifth (18 per cent) of global stroke events (mostly nonfatal events) and about 56 per cent of global heart disease are attributable to total cholesterol levels above 3.2 mmol/l. This amounts to about 4.4 million deaths (7.9 per cent of the total) and 2.8 per cent of the global disease burden.
Walker and colleagues are recruiting healthy people with raised cholesterol to take part in a 12-week study on the plant extract.