Diet As Good As Drug For Lowering Cholesterol
Researchers at the University of Toronto
and St. Michael's Hospital have shown that a vegetarian diet composed
of specific plant foods can lower cholesterol as effectively as
a drug treatment.
The study, published in the July 23 issue
of the Journal of the American Medical Association, compared a diet
of known cholesterol-lowering, vegetarian foods to a standard cholesterol-reducing
drug called lovastatin. The special diet lowered levels of LDL cholesterol
- the "bad" cholesterol known to cause clogging in coronary
arteries - in subjects by almost 29 per cent, compared to a 30.9
per cent decrease in the lovastatin subjects. The special diet combined
nuts (almonds), soy proteins, viscous fibre (high-fibre) foods such
as oats and barely and a special margarine with plant sterols (found
in leafy green vegetables and vegetable oils).
Lead author David Jenkins, a professor in
U of T's Department of Nutritional Sciences and director of the
Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre at St. Michael's
Hospital, believes the reason these foods work so well to reduce
cholesterol is that humans may be evolutionarily adapted to what
has been called the "ape diet," a diet very high in fibre,
nuts, vegetable proteins and plant sterols.
He adds the study could have far-reaching
implications for public health. "As we age, we tend to get
raised cholesterol, which in turn increases our risk of heart disease.
This study shows that people now have a dietary alternative to drugs
to control their cholesterol, at least initially." Jenkins
notes the diet can also be used to maintain normal cholesterol levels.
In this month-long study, a follow-up to
one released December 2002, 46 men and women with raised cholesterol
were randomly assigned to one of three vegetarian diet groups. The
control group ate meals low in saturated fats (such as those found
in animal products like beef and butter). The second group had the
same low fat diet, plus a daily 20 mg treatment of lovastatin. The
last group had a diet high in four foods known to have cholesterol-lowering
properties. This special diet, designed to be easy to prepare and
eat, included foods such as oat bran bread and cereal, soy drinks,
fruit and soy deli slices. A typical dinner for people on the special
diet was tofu bake with eggplant, onions and sweet peppers, pearled
barley and vegetables.
"The Food and Drug Administration has
approved these cholesterol-lowering foods as having legitimate health
claims for heart disease risk reduction," says Jenkins, who
also holds the Canada Research Chair in Vascular and Metabolic Biology.
"They're also being recommended by the American Heart Association
and the National Cholesterol Education Program as foods that should
be incorporated into the diet. And we have now proven that these
foods have an almost identical effect on lowering cholesterol as
the original cholesterol-reducing drugs." Jenkins points out
that large numbers of people with high cholesterol are being put
on medication before they are able to give diet an adequate trial.
He adds that while many people may still require drugs to lower
their cholesterol, his team has demonstrated an effective alternative
for those who are prepared to control their food choices.
The study received funding from the Natural
Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canada
Research Chair program, the Almond Board of California, Loblaws
Brands Ltd., Yves Fine Foods (now Hain-Celestial Group) and Unilever
Canada. Other Department of Nutritional Sciences researchers participating
in the study included research associate Cyril Kendall, graduate
students Augustine Marchie and Azadeh Emam, technician George Koumbridis,
and research dieticians (also of St. Michael's Hospital) Russell
de Souza, Julia Wong, Dorothea Faulkner and Tina Parker. The research
team also included Professors Robert Josse, Lawrence Leiter and
Philip Connelly of the Faculty of Medicine and St. Michael's Hospital;
statistical consultant Edward Vidgen; Elke Trautwein of Unilever
R&D, Vlaardingen, The Netherlands; and Karen Lapsley of the
Almond Board of California.
Department of Nutritional Sciences
Hospital: 416-867-7475 (mornings)
U of T Public Affairs
CCRF would like to thank The University of Toronto for their contribution to the website.
The articles, on the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada website, are presented with the understanding that the Foundation is providing information only and not rendering medical advise. Please check with your family physician, specialist or health care professional before implementing any of the ideas expressed in these articles.
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