Tailor-made dietary fiber may be able to flush artery-clogging cholesterol from the body and lower the risk of heart disease, according to a new study by University of Guelph researchers.
The study found that a fiber-rich plant extract from a legume grown in India can reduce cholesterol in pigs. The results were published in the March issue of the Journal of Nutrition.
Although the study relied on animal models, the researchers say the result would most likely be the same in people and they hope further studies by human nutritionists will provide confirmation.
They also want to find ways to make homegrown “smart” fiber that will improve consumers’ heart health and benefit Ontario’s agri-food industry at the same time. "I think our research will improve quality of life for sure,” said Prof. Ming Fan of the Department of Animal and Poultry Science, one of the lead researchers. "We want to see how nutrition can prevent chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, and how nutrition and diet as a preventive strategy improves heart health.”
The Guelph researchers studied guar gum, an extract of a legume plant grown in Asia that had already been shown to reduce blood lipid levels. Food companies use the substance as a thickener and stabilizer in various products.
The U of G team has been studying how the substance works in the body, including its effects on genes and proteins that drive cholesterol metabolism in the liver. They found that pigs eating guar gum show increased amounts of a protein regulating how the liver removes cholesterol from the blood.
Overall, pigs that were fed diets containing 10-per-cent guar gum for four weeks showed a 27-per-cent drop in total blood cholesterol. LDL (“bad”) cholesterol dropped by 37 per cent.
Fan and his collaborators, including study co-author Qiang Liu, a scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's food research program in Guelph, hope to help develop homegrown – and less expensive – forms of soluble fibres that work in the same way.
They also hope to deliver tailor-made fibres to the large intestine, where they will help the liver sop up blood cholesterol.
Source: University of Guelph.