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Plant Sterol Esters May Cause Harm As Well As Good

Food additive used to reduce cholesterol levels aggravates ischemic brain injury in mice

TUESDAY, April 15 (HealthDay News) -- Plant sterol esters, used in foods such as margarine to reduce cholesterol, increase sterol concentrations in humans and may have a negative health impact, according to research published in the April 22 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Oliver Weingartner, M.D., Universitatsklinikum des Saarlandes in Homburg/Saar, Germany, and colleagues conducted a study in mice comparing the effect of chow supplemented with 2 percent plant sterol esters with that of normal chow, and also measured plasma and tissue sterol concentrations in 82 patients with aortic stenosis.

The investigators found that mice fed with supplemented chow had the same cholesterol plasma concentrations as those fed normal chow but had impaired endothelium-dependent vasorelaxation and increased cerebral lesion size after middle cerebral artery occlusion. The 10 patients who ate plant sterol ester-supplemented margarine had fivefold higher concentrations of sterols in aortic valve tissue as well as increased plasma concentrations.

"In the light of the severe premature atherosclerosis in patients with phytosterolemia and epidemiological observations suggesting an association of plant sterols with increased vascular risk, the findings of this study underline the need for prospective clinical studies with cardiovascular end points for functional foods supplemented with plant sterol esters that are currently advertised for patients with cardiovascular disease," the authors write.

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