Sterol margarines: Low-doses best for heart health, says study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Plant sterols Cholesterol

Frequent low doses of plant sterols may be more effective at cutting cholesterol levels than one daily dose, say findings of a new North American study.

Levels of LDL-cholesterol were 6 per cent lower when sterol-containing margarine was consumed three times per day, compared to those who consumed it once a day, according to data published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition​.

“To obtain optimal cholesterol-lowering impact, plant sterols should be consumed as smaller doses given more often, rather than one large dose,”​ wrote the researchers, led by Professor Peter Jones from the University of Manitoba.

The study expands our understanding of the role of stanols and sterols to improve cardiovascular health. High cholesterol levels, hypercholesterolaemia, have a long association with many diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease (CVD), the cause of almost 50 per cent of deaths in Europe, and reported to cost the EU economy an estimated €169bn ($202bn) per year.

Numerous clinical trials carried out in controlled settings led researchers to report that daily consumption of 1.5 to 3 grams of phytosterols/-stanols can reduce total cholesterol levels by eight to 17 per cent, representing a significant reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The Manitoba researchers, in collaboration with scientists from McGill University and Tufts University, recruited 19 subjects and randomly assigned them to one of three phases: a control margarine (placebo); one dose of sterol-enriched margarine with breakfast, providing a daily dose of 1.8 grams; or the same dose but divided equally among the three main meals of the day.

The phases lasted for 6 days, and, following a washout phase, the subjects were crossed over to the other phases.

At the end of the study, whereby all the subjects had participated in each of the phases, Jones and his co-workers report that, while the single dose did not improve LDL levels, relative to the placebo, consuming 1.8 grams over three intervals reduced LDL by 6 per cent.

Furthermore, consuming sterols three times a day reduced the cholesterol-absorption efficiency by 36 per cent, while the single dose reduced this measure by 39 per cent.

Sterols in other matrices

A recent review by researchers from Unilever R&D and Wageningen University reported that there were no significant differences between sterols or stanols, or fat-based or non fat-based, and dairy or non-dairy food formats.

Eighty-four trials were reviewed and the science appeared to support the incorporation of phytosterols in various food formats. The findings were published in the Journal of Nutrition​.

Source: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition​Volume 63, Pages 747-755, doi:10.1038/ejcn.2008.36“Plant sterol consumption frequency affects plasma lipid levels and cholesterol kinetics in humans”​Authors: S.S. AbuMweis, C.A. Vanstone, A.H. Lichtenstein, P.J.H. Jones

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