Unilever study supports cholesterol lowering potential of sterols plus omega-3

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / gemredding
© Getty Images / gemredding
Daily consumption of a low-fat spread formulated with plant sterols and fish oil may lead to “significant and clinically relevant” improvements in blood lipid levels, says a new study by Unilever scientists.

Four weeks of consuming the spread led to significant reductions in triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol compared to placebo.

“[T]he regular intake of a low-fat spread with 2.0 g/day PS [plant sterols] and 1.0 g/day EPA/DHA [omega-3s] over 4 weeks led to a significant and clinically relevant dual blood lipid benefit based on a decrease of 10.6% in [triglycerides] and 5.2% in LDL-C, in healthy individuals with modestly elevated blood [triglycerides] and LDL-C concentrations,”​ wrote the Unilever scientists in the European Journal of Nutrition.

“This dietary approach could therefore contribute as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle to maintaining low TG and LDL-C concentrations and so help manage the risk of developing [cardiovascular disease].”

Heart health blockbusters

Omega-3s and phytosterols/stanols are leaders in the cardiovascular health sector. Clinical data indicates that daily consumption of 1.5 to 3 grams of phytosterols/-stanols from foods can reduce total cholesterol levels by 8-17%.

The US FDA approved health claim states​ that 1.3 grams of plant sterols per day as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. (For plant stanols, the daily dose increases to 3.4 grams)

A 2014 paper in the Journal of Nutrition​,​ also by scientists from Unilever, reported that combining omega-3s and sterols in a single food format was associated with triglyceride reductions of between 9 and 16%, and LDL cholesterol reductions of about 13%.

In total, there are seven other previous clinical studies that have investigated the blood lipid-lowering effects of the plant sterol-omega-3 combination using different food formats

Study details

For this new randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel group study, the researchers recruited 260 healthy people with modestly elevated blood triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels and randomly assigned them to consume either the sterol-omega-3 spread or a placebo spread for four weeks.

Results showed that, in addition to the significant reductions in triglyceride (TG) and LDL cholesterol levels, the group consuming the spread also experienced significant reductions in total cholesterol (4%), non-HDL cholesterol (5.4%), ApoAII (3%), ApoCIII (7.7%), and ApoB (3.2%).

On the other hand, no significant differences between the groups were observed for HDL-cholesterol, or other cardiovascular measures, such as ApoAI, ApoCII, Apo E or ApoB/ApoAI.

“The observed decrease in apoB concentrations suggests that the total number of pro-atherogenic particles (i.e. non-HDL lipoproteins) was reduced, which could reflect inhibition of VLDL production,” ​explained the researchers. “We also observed a decrease in apoCIII concentrations, an important regulator of TG metabolism, which is expected to result in less inhibition of LPL, and hence increased lipolysis of TGs and lower circulating TG concentrations. No effects of treatment on ApoAI concentrations were observed, which is in line with the HDL-C data.”

Source: European Journal of Nutrition
June 2019, Volume 58, Issue 4, pp 1615–1624, doi: 10.1007/s00394-018-1706-1
“A low-fat spread with added plant sterols and fish omega-3 fatty acids lowers serum triglyceride and LDL-cholesterol concentrations in individuals with modest hypercholesterolaemia and hypertriglyceridaemia”
Authors: W.A.M. Blom, et al.