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A Natural Source of Statins for Lowering Cholesterol?

A Natural Source of Statins for Lowering Cholesterol?
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Some fermented foods, like fermented garlic extract, have demonstrated heart-healthy effects

Statins, a class of medications used to treat high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the world. Statin chemicals are naturally produced through fermentation with specific fungi. A new study found that a garlic extract fermented with the statin-producing yeast, Monascus pilosus, can reduce high triglyceride and cholesterol levels.

The study, published in Clinical Nutrition, included 55 people with normal or moderately elevated triglyceride levels. They were divided into two groups: one was treated with the fermented garlic extract, 900 mg per day, while the other was given placebo for 12 weeks. The daily amount of the fermented garlic extract provided 2 mg of the statin chemical, monacolin K, an amount so small that it is believed to have no measurable effect.

Fermented garlic lowers lipids

Lab test performed during the trial revealed the following findings:

  • Triglyceride levels dropped in the fermented garlic group, but rose in the placebo group.
  • Total cholesterol levels fell in the fermented garlic group, but were virtually unchanged in the placebo group.
  • LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels decreased in the men using the fermented garlic, but not placebo.
  • HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels did not change in either group during the study.

“In this study, we evaluated the effects of a product from Monascus pilosus cultured in garlic juice, which is commercially available in Japan,” the study’s authors said about their trial. “Intake [of the fermented garlic extract] decreased the serum triglyceride and LDL cholesterol concentrations, respectively, by 14.8% and 14.2% at maximum.”

Fermentation yields active chemicals

Foods cultured with the monascus species of yeasts are widely used as additives and colorants in traditional Asian cuisine. Red yeast rice is an example of a food produced through fermentation with monascus yeasts. Red yeast rice has demonstrated a significant cholesterol-lowering effect and has become a popular nutritional supplement. Like the fermented garlic, it contains a small amount of monacolin K, which may contribute to its actions, but is unlikely to be the only factor.

Fermented and cultured foods have traditionally been used to treat digestive ailments and to strengthen the immune system. Some fermented foods, like fermented garlic extract, have also demonstrated heart-healthy effects. Here are some common fermented and cultured foods:

  • Yogurt cultured with Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis has been found to improve lipid profiles.
  • Another fermented dairy product, made with Lactobacillus fermentum and known as koumiss (or kumis), has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels.
  • Preliminary research suggests that kefir, a milk-based drink cultured with lactic acid bacteria and yeast, may reduce cardiovascular risk.
  • Kimchi, a traditional Korean food made from cabbage and other vegetables fermented with lactic acid bacteria, appears to have a beneficial effect on both glucose and lipid metabolism.

(Clin Nutr 2011;doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2011.10.008)

Maureen Williams, ND, completed her doctorate in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle and has been in private practice since 1995. With an abiding commitment to access to care, she has worked in free clinics in the US and Canada, and in rural clinics in Guatemala and Honduras where she has studied traditional herbal medicine. She currently lives and practices in Victoria, BC, and lectures and writes extensively for both professional and community audiences on topics including family nutrition, menopause, anxiety and depression, heart disease, cancer, and easing stress. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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