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New weapon in war against heart disease

CSIRO : 17 April, 2001  (New Product)
CSIRO scientists are researching an important new weapon in the war against heart disease, plant sterols. Plant sterols are natural ingredients in the cell walls of many everyday foods including nuts, seeds and vegetables, but at quite low levels according to CSIRO scientist Dr Peter Clifton.
CSIRO will be running trials on foods fortified with plant sterols to find ways of increasing the dietary intake of these cholesterol lowering substances.

Announcing the trials today, Dr Clifton said that sterol-fortified margarine trials conducted last year by CSIRO had already proved LDL or 'bad' cholesterol could be reduced by up to 10 per cent within three weeks in men and women with elevated levels.

'This is significant because research indicates that if you can lower cholesterol levels by 10 per cent, you can reduce your heart disease risk by 25 per cent or more,'' he said.

However, many people would find it difficult to eat the minimum of 20g or four teaspoons of margarine a day required to optimise the effect of these naturally-occurring plant substances on cholesterol levels.

'The study announced today involves a broader range of foods enriched with plant sterols including bread, milk, cereal and yogurt, making sterol-fortified foods easier to incorporate in the average Australian diet,'' Dr Clifton says.

'This has the potential to radically change the Australian diet, particularly for the 50 per cent of Australians who have elevated cholesterol levels which puts them at higher risk of heart disease.'

'For the trial, food manufacturers have extracted sterols from plants, concentrated them and added them to the food,'' he said.

Although the cholesterol-lowering effect of plant sterols has been known for more than 40 years, the ability to incorporate them easily into foods was only a recent development.

Dr Clifton said the results of the new trial would be important because altering the type of food we eat is the only relatively easy way Australians can significantly decrease their heart disease risk.

'Hereditary factors and just being born male increase heart disease risk, and there's not much you can do about that. But changing your diet marginally is a small step that can have a big impact on reducing that risk,'' Dr Clifton said.

About 60 Australians with cholesterol levels above 5 mmo/L, the current desirable limit, will be involved in the trials, which begin next month. The trials will be conducted in collaboration with the Baker Research Institute and Sydney University.

The volunteers' cholesterol levels will be monitored as they increase the level of plant sterols in their diet through eating foods containing concentrated amounts of them.

Dr Clifton said the trial results will help establish scientifically the efficacy and safety of sterol-fortified foods and help clear the way for more foods containing plant sterols onto Australian supermarket shelves.
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