People with mildly high cholesterol may be able to drink their way to lower levels, if research findings on a souped-up brand of orange juice are correct. Researchers from the University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento found that the juice, fortified with cholesterol-fighting plant compounds called sterols, was able to lower "bad" LDL cholesterol by about 12% among adults who drank two glasses a day for two months.
The study received partial funding from The Coca Cola Co., which launched the sterol-fortified juice in the U.S. last year under the name Minute Maid Premium Heart Wise. The product is among the growing ranks of so-called "functional foods" that have additives aimed at promoting health. In this case, plant sterols, which are found naturally in small amounts in vegetables and vegetable oils, provide the potential health benefit. The compounds are structurally similar to cholesterol and are thought to limit the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines.
Plant sterol-fortified margarines, such as Benecol and Take Control, have been on the market for several years in the U.S. Orange juice has the advantage of being a widely consumed, vitamin-packed vehicle for plant sterols, according to the authors of the new study.
For the study, the researchers had 72 healthy volunteers with mildly elevated cholesterol drink regular orange juice for a two-week "run-in" phase, then randomly assigned half of them to drink the fortified juice for eight weeks, while the rest stuck with standard OJ. Blood tests showed that the fortified group's total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol had dropped by an average of 7% and 12%, respectively, by the study's end.
However, experts say it's not time for people on cholesterol-lowering statin drugs to toss out their medication, as the orange juice had only a "modest effect" on cholesterol in this study. And there is also the matter of calories. Two daily servings of the fortified juice, which give the recommended two grams of plant sterols, provide about 220 calories each day. So it should be used in place of regular beverages, and not added to a person's usual calorie intake.
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