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Soy diet lowers cholesterol

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Posted on Tue, Jul. 22, 2003

Soy diet could help lower cholesterol as well as popular drugs
Knight Ridder Newspapers

(KRT) - It's hard to imagine most Kentuckians relishing high-fiber biscuits and tofu sausage.

But a new study finds a low-fat vegetarian diet rich in fiber, soy and nuts may reduce artery-clogging fats equally as well as a cholesterol-lowering drug.

"Seventy-five percent of people who have high cholesterol can manage it with diet," said Dr. James W. Anderson, the University of Kentucky's best-known obesity expert. "But only about 25 percent do."

Anderson, who has long researched the effects of soy and fiber on cholesterol, wrote an editorial accompanying the study in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

The small study is giving a much-needed boost to diet's role in managing cholesterol, Anderson said. It's an important issue everywhere, but especially so in a state struggling with high rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Most stunning was an average LDL cholesterol drop of nearly 29 percent in one month - without cholesterol-lowering medication - among one group studied. That sort of dip in "bad" cholesterol reduces the risk of heart attack by 60 percent, he said.

That group of 16 ate a low saturated-fat diet high in soy protein, almonds and soluble fiber, such as whole-grain oats and psyllium, the plant fiber in Metamucil. Participants also took daily capsule supplements of plant sterols, which are plant compounds that block cholesterol.

The researchers, led by Dr. David J.A. Jenkins at the University of Toronto, studied 46 healthy Canadian adults with high cholesterol. Another group in the study ate a typical low-fat diet and took 20 milligrams daily of lovastatin, the cholesterol drug Mevacor. That group lowered its LDL by an average of 31 percent.

The specialized diet got much better results than typical low-fat diets. Research has found that most low-fat diets bring cholesterol down a modest 4 to 13 percent.

Anderson said the ability to manage cholesterol by diet is important, even though powerful cholesterol-lowering drugs sold more than $21 billion worldwide in 2002. The two best-selling medications worldwide last year were Lipitor and Zocor.

"Some people just don't want to take these medications," Anderson said, either because of costs or fear of side effects.

He said diet modification is a reasonable first strategy to treat high cholesterol, except in cases of extremely high LDL cholesterol of 200 or higher. Those levels should be treated immediately with both medication and diet.

"We're not talking about Draconian measures," Anderson said about the diet. "This translates into four simple things people can do to lower their blood cholesterol."

Adding soy can be as simple as munching a handful of soy nuts (about 7 grams of soy protein) or adding soy milk to cereal. Some specialty cereals and bars also tout high levels of soy protein. "Soy does all the things statins do, plus more," Anderson said. Beneficial soluble fiber is in whole-grain oatmeal, beans, vegetables and fruits.


2003, Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.).

Visit the World Wide Web site of the Herald-Leader at

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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