Numerous studies have shown the ability of plant sterols and stanols to lower cholesterol levels. The research has demonstrated reductions in total cholesterol, LDL and in some of the studies they saw a reduction in triglycerides. The U.S. FDA and the N.I.H. have even gone so far as to allow a health claim on specific food and nutrition products which they very rarely do. I may disagree with some of their stated claim: “Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include two servings of foods that provide a daily total of at least 3.4 grams of plant stanol esters in two meals may reduce the risk of heart disease.” I would take issue with the “saturated fat” part as well as “reduce the risk of heart disease” since that risk reduction has never been shown. There’s more to reducing CVD risk than cholesterol, which made a recent study by Greek researchers more interesting. Published in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Disease, besides lowering cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides, the study showed reductions in sdLDL (or the small dense LDL) and apoB. One of the most important numbers to look at is the total cholesterol to HDL ratio. Keeping the tChol/HDL ratio below 4:1 is very important, which is where the plant sterols can help. By lowering total cholesterol you can actually improve this marker. Another important marker is the apoB/apoA1 ratio. The most recent study by the Greeks showed that even this marker can be improved with plant sterols, even if the diet stays the same. Does this mean eat junk and take plant sterols? Obviously not. In fact, the Greek researchers, who allowed their subjects to remain on the typical Western-diet, recommended switching towards a Mediterranean-style diet to actually reduce the risk to heart disease.
So how can phytosterols reduce muscle pain? Stay with me here. If you can keep your cholesterol levels in check, then your medical doctor is unlikely to prescribe statin drugs. One of the most common side effect complaints from the use of statin drugs is muscle aches and pains and weak muscles. This side effect is much more common in athletes and those involved in regular exercise. Sound like a stretch? Researchers at the Vienna Institute stated that “In another study examining the role of exercise in patients with statin treatment we realized that in those people performing regular strenuous exercise side-effects, characterized as ache- and cramp-like symptoms as well as muscular weakness, may increase, raising the possibility that as many as 25% may suffer.” In their 2004 study in the British Journal of Clilnical Pharmacology study on athletes and statin use, the same researchers reported that 78% of the professional athletes studied were not able to tolerate statin drug use due to muscle pain. Not surprisingly, the side effects disappeared within a few days of discontinuing the drug. Stay off the drugs and no side effects. Remember, your heart disease risk is never due to a deficiency in statin drugs.
J Am Coll Nutr. 2006 Feb;25(1):41-8. Phytosterols/stanols lower cholesterol concentrations in familial hypercholesterolemic subjects: a systematic review with meta-analysis
Moruisi KG et al. School of Physiology, Nutrition and Consumer Science, North-West University, Private Bag X6001, Potchefstroom, 2520, South Africa.
Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2011 Feb 11. Phytosterols supplementation decreases plasma small and dense LDL levels in metabolic syndrome patients on a westernized type diet.
Sialvera TE,et al. Unit of Human Nutrition, Department of Food Science and Technology, Agricultural University of Athens, Iera Odos 75, Athens 11855, Greece.
Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2004 Apr;57(4):525-8. Professional athletes suffering from familial hypercholesterolaemia rarely tolerate statin treatment because of muscular problems.
Sinzinger H, O'Grady J.Wilhelm Auerswald Atherosclerosis Research Group (ASF) Vienna, Institute for Diagnosis and Treatment of Atherosclerosis and Lipid Disorders (ATHOS), Vienna, Austria. [email protected]