MONTREAL, CANADA. It is well known that regular exercise increases the blood level of beneficial HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. There is now also substantial evidence that plant sterols reduce overall cholesterol level and, in particular, the level of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Margarines incorporating plant sterols are available for use in the prevention of heart disease.
Researchers at McGill University now report that combining an increased intake of plant sterols with regular endurance exercise results in a much improved cholesterol profile with lower triglycerides, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, and a significant increase in HDL cholesterol. Their clinical trial involved 74 sedentary, non-smoking individuals between the ages of 40 and 70 years with an average total cholesterol level above 175 (4.5 mmol/L) and no heart disease or diabetes. The participants were randomly assigned into one of four groups:
At the end of the 8-week trial period, the total cholesterol concentration (after correcting for changes in the
control group) had decreased by 7.1% in the sterol group, by 5.4% in the combination group, but increased
by 2.1% in the exercise only group. LDL cholesterol declined by 11.3% in the sterol group, by 5.9% in the
combination group, but increased by 6.9% in the exercise group. HDL cholesterol increased by 5.8% in the
sterol group, by 9.2% in the combination group, and by 11.2% in the exercise group. Triglycerides
decreased by 1.3% in the sterol group, by 9.7% in the combination group, and by 14.5% in the exercise
group. Blood levels of beta-sitosterol increased by 27.0% in the sterol group, by 20.1% in the combination
group, and by 3.9% in the exercise group. The researchers conclude that a regimen combining plant sterols
with endurance exercise results in the most favourable changes in cholesterol profile.
Editor's comment: Beta-sitosterol is also readily available as a supplement.