(NaturalNews) Phytosterols added to low-fat fermented milk may help lower LDL cholesterol levels, according to a study conducted by French researchers and reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Phytosterols are naturally occurring plant chemicals that are structurally related to cholesterol. Prior studies have demonstrated that consuming 1.5 to 3 grams of plant sterols in food daily can lead to cholesterol reductions of anywhere from eight to 17 percent. Most of these studies have added the sterols to high-fat foods, however, which high-cholesterol patients may not want to consume frequently.
Researchers studied 194 people with slightly high LDL cholesterol levels (between 130 and 190 milligrams per deciliter). Half of the participants were given two servings of low-fat fermented milk daily, while the other half had 0.8 grams of plant sterol ester added to the same type and dose of milk. After three weeks, the group consuming the phytosterol-supplemented milk experienced a 9.5 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol levels relative to the control group; after six weeks, this reduction decreased to 7.8 percent relative to the control group.
In addition, participants drinking the supplemented milk also experienced lowered concentrations of oxidized LDL relative to the control group. There was no significant change, however, to HDL cholesterol or plasma triaglycerol levels.
"Daily consumption of 1.6 g plant sterols in low-fat fermented milk efficiently lowers LDL cholesterol in subjects with moderate hypercholesterolemia without deleterious effects on biomarkers of oxidative stress," the researchers said.
According to a report by Frost and Sullivan, the European market products containing plant sterols or plant stanol esters was €146m ($184.6m) in 2005. The report estimates that this market will increase by 114 percent to €312.5m ($395.2m) by 2012.
High levels of cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol in particular, have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is one of the top killers in the United States, responsible for 30 percent of all deaths.