FEBRUARY 01, 2007

Cocoa Snacks Can Cut Cholesterol

Chocolate lovers, rejoice. A new study showed that snacking on cocoa-flavored bars that are enriched with phytosterols can significantly lower cholesterol levels. Phytosterols, plant-derived compounds similar to the cholesterol found in mammals, have been shown to help cut cholesterol, and the FDA has endorsed food products enhanced with the sterols "as part of a dietary strategy to reduce the risk of coronary disease."

In order to study the effect of phytosterol- enriched foods on blood levels of cholesterol, the researchers assigned 67 patients with high cholesterol to eat 2 snack bars that contained 1.5 g of plant sterols every day for 6 weeks, or 2 bars without the sterols.

The participants who ate the enriched bars had a 4.7% reduction in total cholesterol. In addition, they experienced a 6% reduction in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol after the 6 weeks. They also showed an increase in high-density lipoprotein levels.

The researchers concluded that adding phytosterol-enriched snacks to a regimen of healthy diet and regular exercise can help significantly lower total and LDL cholesterol.

The results of the study were published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (November 2006).

Controlling Cholesterol Improves Lymphoma Survival

According to a new US study, patients recovering from Hodgkin's lymphoma have a better chance of survival if they also control their cholesterol levels. The study showed that "lipid screening in Hodgkin's survivors is cost-effective and provides physicians with a guideline on how frequently they should be screening for high cholesterol, an important risk factor for heart disease," according to Aileen Chen,MD, a radiation oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Center in Boston, Mass, where the study was conducted.

The study looked at Hodgkin's survivors treated with chest radiation in order to treat lymph nodes. These patients' hearts also received small amounts of radiation, which puts them at added risk of heart disease. High cholesterol levels increase this risk. The study showed that those patients who were screened for high cholesterol every 5 years and received statin therapy as a result were shown to live an average of 6 months longer, compared with patients who were not screened and therefore did not receive therapy. The study's findings were presented in November 2006 at the annual meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology.

Sugar Cane Extract Does Not Lower Cholesterol

A new study supported growing evidence that an extract from Cuban sugar cane does not help lower cholesterol levels. There are several plant-based products that do help cut cholesterol levels, such as plant sterols used in margarines and other foods. Cuban sugar cane policosanols, however, are quickly dropping out of this category.

Researchers at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada, studied 21 otherwise-healthy men and women with high cholesterol levels who consumed either 10 mg of policosanols or a placebo for 28 days. After a 28-day "washout period," the participants switched supplements. The researchers found no effect on any measure of the participants' cholesterol levels from consuming policosanols.

Proponents of the supplement point to numerous human and animal studies from a laboratory in Cuba that have shown dramatic cholesterol-lowering results from policosanol intake,comparable to that of statins. Similar studies conducted elsewhere, however, have shown no beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. Researchers suspect that the Cuban population might be more susceptible to the effects of policosanol for either genetic or dietary reasons. The study's findings were published in the November 2006 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Statins Cut Heart Risk in Patients Without CVD

New research indicated that there are definite benefits to prescribing statins for individuals who currently do not have cardiovascular disease (CVD) but are at moderate risk for heart attacks, stroke, or other CV events. An analysis of studies that involved >48,000 patients supports recent guidelines about which patients should receive statin therapy, according to lead study author Niteesh K. Choudhry, MD, an associate physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Mass. The results of the analysis were published in the November 27, 2006, issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Dr. Choudhry said that if the 23 million Americans at moderate risk for CVD took statins for an average of 4.3 years, ~85,800 strokes and 383,000 major coronary events would be prevented. The study showed that patients with moderate CVD risk factors, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, who took statins had a 29% lower risk of major CV events, and a 14% reduced risk of stroke. He pointed out, however, that statin use did not decrease the threat of coronary heart disease or overall death in this population.

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