New way to reduce fat and cholesterol levels in the body

Just in time for the holidays, McGill researchers have identified a new way to reduce fat and cholesterol levels in the body. Their program, which combines consuming plant-derived sterols (or oils) with exercise, may benefit those who are at risk of coronary heart disease. These findings were recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

"Both consuming plant sterols and exercising have been shown to affect blood cholesterol levels on their own," said the senior author, McGill professor of dietetics and nutrition Peter Jones. "Our research is the first to look at the complementary combined effects of these therapies."

Seventy-four non-active individuals between the ages of 40 and 70 were recruited for the study. They were placed into the following four different intervention groups: combination (consumed margarine containing plant sterols and exercised), exercise (consumed plant-sterol-free margarine and exercised), sterol only (consumed margarine containing plant sterols and did not exercise) and control (consumed plant-sterol-free margarine and did not exercise). Exercise involved using stair-stepping machines and stationary bicycles three times a week. Margarine was consumed four times a day. This regimen was continued for eight weeks, blood samples were taken and lipid analysis was performed.

"In comparison with plant sterols or exercise alone, the combination of plant sterols and exercise yielded the most beneficial change in the volunteers' cholesterol and lipid levels," said lead author and McGill doctoral student Krista Varady. "This combination therapy favourably altered their lipid profiles by decreasing total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triacylglycerol levels, and by increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels.

"These findings suggest that combination therapy may improve the cholesterol and lipid levels in previously sedentary adults who have high cholesterol. Furthermore, this therapy may reduce the risk of coronary artery disease for these individuals."

Jones added that there were other benefits associated with the exercise program. "Our volunteers were typically inactive. In addition to the altered cholesterol levels, the increased physical activity contributed to loss of weight and improved motivation. Long-term exercise can also reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of other health complications."

"These findings on the combination of plant sterols — which are also naturally present in nuts, seeds, legumes, vegetable oils and other plant sources — and exercise are very interesting," says Dr. Jacques Genest, spokesperson for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. "The Heart and Stroke Foundation supports this research to find ways to reduce high blood cholesterol, a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke."

This research was supported by funding from the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

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