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updated 5/13/2004 6:57:41 PM ET 2004-05-13T22:57:41

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Our experienced medical journalist Daniel J. DeNoon took your questions about cholesterol to specialists. Here's what he found out.

Question: Can vitamins or health foods replace drugs to help lower cholesterol?

Answer: A Chinese red rice yeast supplement lowers cholesterol since it contains an actual statin. Sale of this product is restricted in the U.S. Highly water-soluble fiber supplements also reduce cholesterol to a modest degree. -- Richard A. Stein, associate chairman of medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City and a spokesman for the American Heart Association.

Niacin is a vitamin. And niacin is an excellent way to lower cholesterol. The best way to do it, is you really should be under the care of a doctor. The reason is that the doses of niacin required to pull this off are high doses, and these can lead to problems if not carefully controlled. But this is a beautiful vitamin in terms of controlling cholesterol. And soluble fiber, citrus, those are things that can lower cholesterol, too. And plant sterols and stanols, from foods such as Benecol margarine, can help.-- Dr. Richard Milani, director of the cardiovascular health center at Ochsner Clinic, New Orleans.

Question: Is over-the-counter niacin time-released medication as effective as Niaspan in treating good cholesterol and exactly how does it work?

Answer: Over-the-counter niacin is as effective as Niaspan. I prefer starting patients on over-the-counter products, but I use brands that are clean products. These can be more effective than Niaspan when used properly. Not that Niaspan is not good. And there are a lot of right and wrong ways too use niacin. It is better to use niacin under a doctor's care. -- Dr. Richard Milani, director of the cardiovascular health center at Ochsner Clinic, New Orleans.

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