High cholesterol -- hypercholesterolaemia -- has strong links to cardiovascular disease, which causes nearly 50 percent of deaths in Europe, and costs the EU roughly $202 billion each year. Previous studies have suggested that patients with high cholesterol can reduce their cholesterol levels by 8 to 17 percent by consuming 1.5 to 3 grams of plant sterols or stanols every day, which translates to a reduction in the risk of heart disease.
Researchers from the University Medical Centre Utrecht and the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands studied 20 hypercholesterolaemic patients who were receiving a daily maximum dose of statin drugs -- atorvastatin or simvastatin, 80 mg.
The randomized, single-blind study split the participants into two groups: the first received 3 grams of plant stanol-enriched margarine per day (Johnson & Johnson brand Benecol) for six weeks, and the second group received stanol-free margarine each day for six weeks. Both margarines contained the same amount of fat -- 62 percent.
At the end of the six-week trial, the group given stanol-enriched margarine experienced a 9.9 percent reduction in plasma cholesterol and a 15.6 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol, while levels of apolipoprotein B (ApoB) -- which is responsible for transporting cholesterol to tissues -- fell by 10.8 percent.
Conversely, the control group only experienced a 7.7 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol levels. Total cholesterol remained the same, and ApoB levels fell by 6.8 percent.
"Intensive dietary intervention with addition of plant stanols results in clinically relevant reduction of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in patients optimally treated with statins, compared with similar patients on statins receiving only standard care," the researchers wrote.
However, consumer health advocate Mike Adams, author of "Grocery Warning," says this research should indicate to patients that plant stanols and sterols can actually replace statin drugs.
"Statin drugs are dangerous chemicals that can produce extremely harmful -- even fatal -- side effects," Adams said. "Replacing them with plant-based medicines under the care of a naturopathic physician can greatly improve the health of patients while greatly reducing the cost of their treatment."