Fiber supplements lower "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and increase "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association's Sixth Annual Conference on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.
High blood cholesterol is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of diabetes-related death, according to the American Heart Association. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body can't produce or properly use insulin to turn food into energy.
Supplements that increase dietary fiber reduce blood cholesterol levels in the general population, which prompted researchers at Unicity International in Orem, Utah, to study its effect in people with type 2 diabetes.
"The remarkable observation is that this works on two sides: It decreased LDL and increased HDL by significant amounts at 90 days," said the study's lead author, Peter J. Verdegem, Ph.D., chief science officer at Unicity International. "This approach is virtually free of side effects. It opens up an alternative treatment option."
The study is one of the first to examine the effect of fiber in cardiovascular risk reduction for people with type 2 diabetes, Verdegem said.
The 78 participants in the open label trial had type 2 diabetes and averaged 59 years old. Researchers measured the participants' total blood cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL and HDL at baseline and again at 90 days.
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy fat that the body uses to form cell membranes and perform other important functions. Lipoproteins transport cholesterol through the body. LDL escorts cholesterol through the circulatory system; HDL carries it to the liver where it it can be eliminated.
Elevated cholesterol levels can raise the risk of hard deposits called plaques forming in the arteries, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. LDL levels of 160 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and above are considered high.
Soluble fiber helps lower blood cholesterol levels. However, most adults in the United States do not consume enough dietary fiber. Average daily intake for adults is 15 grams (g); 25g to 30g of fiber is recommended.
"The product (a fiber supplement) was designed to fill that gap between the real intake and the advised intake," Verdegem said.
Study participants received 10g to 15g of BiosLife 2, an over-the-counter fiber supplement manufactured by Unicity International. The drink contains both soluble and insoluble fiber from guar gum, gum arabic, locust bean gum, pectin and oat fiber dispersed in calcium carbonate. It was administered in 5-gram doses two to three times daily 5 to 10 minutes before eating.
"When it is in the intestines, the fiber decreases reabsorption of cholesterol from a meal," Verdegem said.
At the end of the study, total cholesterol had dropped from 215 mg/dL to 184 mg/dL, a 14.4 percent decrease. Triglycerides also improved, dropping from 299 mg/dL to 257 mg/dL, a 14 percent decrease.
LDL decreased from 129 mg/dL to 92 mg/dL -- a 28.7 percent improvement. HDL rose from 43 mg/dL to 55 mg/dL -- a 21.8 percent increase. "With a normal pharmaceutical intervention, you see a decrease in LDL but not an increase in HDL to these levels," Verdegem said. "It is usually only a one-sided effect."
Statin drugs are among the most commonly used cholesterol-lowering medications. Verdegem said the study demonstrates that dietary fiber supplements may be an alternative to statins for people with moderately high cholesterol who are unable or unwilling to take statins.