Making certain dietary changes, such as consuming cholesterol-lowering foods in combination rather than separately, may be as effective as some prescription drugs for certain patients with high cholesterol, according to new study findings.
“A diet can be much more effective than originally thought, in terms of lowering cholesterol,” Dr. Cyril W. C. Kendall, of the University of Toronto in Canada, told Reuters Health.
Previous research has shown that diet can lower cholesterol, but much attention has been focused on the cholesterol-lowering statins, due to their effectiveness and ease of use. Re-focusing on diet, the American Heart Association and the National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III recommends the use of foods high in cholesterol-lowering ingredients for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Kendall and his colleagues explored whether certain combinations of cholesterol-lowering foods, rather than just single food items, would be similarly effective.
Their findings are based on 55 study participants who consumed a diet with high levels of plant sterols, soy protein, viscous fibers (found in oats, barley and eggplant) and almonds.
At 3-month and 12-month follow-up, study participants exhibited an average 14 percent and 13 percent reduction, respectively, in levels of the “bad” LDL-cholesterol, the investigators report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
What’s more, over 30 percent of the study participants lowered their LDL-cholesterol by more than 20 percent by the end of the study period, a reduction comparable to that seen among patients taking older formulations of statin drugs, the researchers note.
“We believe that the combination approach to dietary treatment may greatly enhance its effectiveness, as was shown for combination drug therapy and is now accepted in the dietary management of hypertension,” they write.
In addition to dietary changes, regular exercise and weight management are also important, Kendall said. The benefit of the dietary approach, however, is that people can “pick and choose” the food they like, he said, rather than sticking to only one particular food.
Furthermore, the diet will be easier to follow as more varieties of products containing soy, almonds, viscous fiber and plant sterol become available, the authors speculate.
Kendall stressed that diet is “not an alternative to medication.” Some individuals with very high cholesterol levels may need to stick to their medication regimen, which may consist of higher dosages of medication, he explained.
Yet, combining their medication with the diet may also be of benefit, he said, because it may allow their medication dosage to be lowered.