People can add a fiber supplement to their diet and get the same effect as doubling the dose of powerful cholesterol-lowering drugs, researchers said Tuesday.
They said their findings offer an alternative to patients worried about the side-effects of the statin drugs, which work powerfully to lower cholesterol but which can badly affect kidney and muscle function in some patients.
The findings also support the advice that a healthy diet high in natural fiber is the first line of defense against cholesterol and heart disease.
Three servings a day of Metamucil, a commercial fiber supplement, lowered low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, an average of 6 percent in 68 patients over two months, Dr. Abel Moreyra of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, New Jersey found.
That was the same effect as doubling the dose of a statin drug, he told a meeting of the American Heart Association.
“The good thing about it is you are not increasing the side effects,” Moreyra told a news conference.
“I think many patients are concerned when we doctors double the dose of a statin -- patients are afraid, are concerned about side-effects,” he added.
“Therefore we think this is an alternative to escalating the dose of a statin.”
Metamucil contains psyllium husk, which is high in cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber, Moreyra said.
In the study, patients who had taken 10-milligram doses of the cholesterol-lowering drug simvastatin had reduced their ”bad” cholesterol levels by about 29 percent at the end of the eight-week period, Moreyra said.
Those who had taken the same amount of simvastatin plus psyllium had reduced their LDL cholesterol by about 36 percent, the same amount as those who had taken 20-milligram doses of simvastatin.
Simvastatin is made by Merck and Co. under the brand name Zocor.