Cholesterol-lowering hot-fudge sundae

Sunday, 20 February, 2005

Tim Carr, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln nutrition scientist, has developed a compound that packs more cholesterol-lowering power than similar commercially available plant-based food additives and should be easier to incorporate into foods.

Carr's new compound outperformed plant-based additives in animal studies. Preliminary research also indicates it works at least as well as widely prescribed cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. The raw materials come from soybeans and beef tallow.

Scientists have long known that plant sterols help reduce blood cholesterol. However, sterols don't dissolve in water. Mixing sterols with oil or fat improves their solubility but has limited their use to higher fat foods such as margarine or salad dressings.

Commercially available plant sterol additives are gooey, sticky substances. They stick to food manufacturing equipment. Carr's compound is easily made into a powder that theoretically could be added to diverse foods, from breakfast cereals and drinks to dairy products and even chocolate.

Carr is testing his compound's effectiveness in animal studies and exploring how best to commercialise it to benefit consumers. The university is patenting this technology.

Carr's College of Education and Human Sciences team compared his compound to a commercially available plant sterol product in hamster feeding trials. The compound lowered LDL cholesterol about 70%, compared with 10% using the commercial sterol additive.

Commercial plant sterol additives and the team's plant sterol/stearic acid compound both work by blocking cholesterol absorption in the small intestine. Typically, the body absorbs 50-60% of cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract, he said. Excess cholesterol winds up in blood where it can contribute to heart disease.

"With our compound, absorption is in the 3 to 5% range," Carr said. "That's highly effective."

If the new compound proves effective in further studies, it might provide a new cholesterol management tool.

"The beauty of this is that our compound passes right through the GI tract and takes cholesterol with it. It's never absorbed into the body so there are no toxicity issues," he said.

This research is con-ducted in cooperation with the university's Agricultural Research Division.

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