Plant Sterols Plus OJ: Recipe for a Healthier Heart?
COULD A GLASS OF ORANGE JUICE twice a day
help improve your cholesterol levels? Researchers at
the University of California-Davis think so—provided
that the juice is supplemented with plant sterols.
In a new study, researchers found that reduced-calorie
orange juice with added plant sterols reduced levels of Creactive
protein, a marker for inflammation that may predict
the risk of atherosclerosis. The juice mixture also decreased
total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol while increasing hearthealthy
Plant sterols occur naturally in small amounts in vegetables,
fruits, nuts, cereals, legumes and other foods. Though
chemically similar to cholesterol, they seem to inhibit the
body’s absorption of cholesterol. Both the FDA and the
National Cholesterol Education Panel (NCEP) advocate the
use of plant sterols to help fight unhealthy cholesterol. Some
margarines and other spreads have already incorporated
plant sterols in an effort to create cholesterol-fighting foods;
similar benefits to those seen in the juice test can be obtained
from margarines such as Take Control or Benecol. The
NCEP’s Adult Treatment Panel III recommends two grams of
plant sterols daily.
“Dietary therapy is the cornerstone of strategies aimed at
reducing LDL cholesterol and thereby reducing the risk of
cardiovascular disease,” according to Sridevi Devaraj, PhD,
lead author of the study, published in the American Journal
of Clinical Nutrition.
The double-blind trial tested 72 healthy volunteers. Half the group were randomly assigned to drink about eight
ounces of reduced-calorie orange juice supplemented with
one gram of plant sterols twice a day with meals. The other
subjects, assigned to a placebo group, were given juice without
After eight weeks, the sterol-supplemented group showed
C-reactive protein levels averaging 12% lower compared to
the placebo group and to their baseline at the beginning. The
test group also had 5% lower total cholesterol and 9.4%
lower LDL cholesterol compared to baseline and the placebo
group. Levels of the “good” HDL cholesterol improved 6%
over baseline; both groups improved HDL levels, but the
increase was higher in the sterol group.
A concern about plant sterols has been that they might
also suppress the body’s absorption of healthful nutrients
such as vitamin E and carotenoids. But the study found
no significant change in concentrations of these compounds.
The Coca-Cola Co., which makes Minute Maid juice,
helped fund the research, along with the National Institutes
of Health. Minute Maid Premium Heart Wise juice contains
one gram of plant sterols per eight-ounce serving, but has
110 calories. Minute Maid also makes a 50-calorie “Light”
beverage, like that used in the study, though this does not
contain plant sterols as of yet.