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Cholesterol-Lowering Margarines

You may have seen advertisements for margarines that help to lower cholesterol, such as Take Control, an extract from soy beans; or Benecol, a margarine made from wood pulp. These products contain stanol esters, chemicals produced by plants that look like cholesterol but are different enough so that your body can't absorb them (1).

Cholesterol is found only in animals. Plants never contain cholesterol, but they do have stanols and sterols that have a similar chemical structures. Both block absorption of cholesterol in humans, with stanols far more effective than sterols. They have been shown to return blood cholesterol to normal in 50 percent of people with high cholesterol (3). Stanols do not affect blood levels of the good HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, or vitamins A, E or D, but they do lower beta-carotene levels (4). No serious side effects have been reported.

No food or drug, by itself, prevents heart attacks. Stanol margarines will not correct an unhealthy diet. First eat a healthful diet loaded with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts. Then if you wish to use a butter substitute, these products may be a good choice for you. Check the label to make sure they do not contain partiallly hydrogenated oils, which I always recommend that you avoid. Also check the calorie count and the serving size; these products are not low-calorie spreads.

1) NB Cater. Historical and scientific basis for the development of plant stanol ester foods as cholesterol-lowering agents. European Heart Journal Supplements, 1999, Vol 1, Iss S, pp S36-S44.

2) SD Turley. Dietary cholesterol and the mechanisms of cholesterol absorption. European Heart Journal Supplements, 1999, Vol 1, Iss S, pp S29-S35.

3) TA Miettinen. Stanol esters in the treatment of hypercholesterolaemia. European Heart Journal Supplements, 1999, Vol 1, Iss S, pp S50-S57.

4) J Plat, ENM vanOnselen, RP Mensink

Title Dietary plant stanol ester mixtures - Effects on safety parameters and erythrocyte membrane fatty acid composition in non-hypercholesterolaemic subjects. European Heart Journal Supplements, 1999, Vol 1, Iss S, pp S58-S63.

5) A Andersson, B Karlstrom, R Mohsen, B Vessby. Cholesterol-lowering effects of a stanol ester-containing low-fat margarine used in conjunction with a strict lipid-lowering diet. European Heart Journal Supplements, 1999, Vol 1, Iss S, pp S80-S90.

Checked 11/3/12

May 29th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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