The 19th-century French writer Gustave Flaubert wrote that “the heart, like the stomach, wants a varied diet.” Granted, he wasn’t exactly talking about the cardiovascular system, but Flaubert’s observation nevertheless seems to reflect the latest nutritional science. Recent natural products research suggests that ingredients derived from common foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and grains, may have beneficial effects on heart health. While scientists need to complete more research before they can have an accurate picture of how effective these ingredients are, excitement is building among consumers and manufacturers.
“Our society has slowly become very health conscious,” says Bassam Faress, director of sales and marketing at Garuda International Inc. (Lemon Cove, CA), which supplies LesstanoL sugar cane policosanol. “As more individuals are getting involved in taking back their health, we are seeing more interest and business in the cardiovascular health supplement market.”
|Photo courtesy of DigitalVision.|
Some of the most promising new cardiovascular ingredients come from fruit. For example, studies have shown that pomegranate and grape seed extracts can help inhibit plaque buildup and inflammation, which can lead to heart disease. Other research suggests that citrus flavonoids, in combination with other ingredients, can help lower cholesterol.
Pomegranate juice, in particular, has been the subject of several recent studies. For instance, a team of Italian and American researchers reported in the March 29, 2005, issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that hypercholesterolemic mice that drank pomegranate juice during an experiment reduced their rate of plaque buildup by 30%. The team also reported that cultured human heart cells exposed to pomegranate juice increased their production of nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessel walls, by 50%. The researchers theorized that the juice’s ability to boost nitric oxide production, along with its high polyphenol content, may help explain its cardioprotective effects.
According to Sonya Cropper, vice president of marketing at Geni Herbs (Noblesville, IN), which supplies the standardized pomegranate extract PomElla, researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles have found that the polyphenol punicalagin is the primary constituent responsible for pomegranate juice’s antiatherosclerotic properties. PomElla is standardized to punicalagin but also provides a matrix of other polyphenols that may yield an added synergistic effect.
Cropper adds that the polyphenol blend does have another advantage: PomElla is void of the high sugars and calories associated with many pomegranate juices. “We find more consumers are comparing the advantages of supplements versus the juice, and overwhelming data show that many are becoming more conscious of the amount of sugars one must digest in recommended daily servings,” she says.
Another fruit extract, Indena USA’s (Seattle) LeucoSelect, has been shown to offer protection against several factors that can lead to heart disease, including capillary fragility, inflammation, and uptake of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. “LeucoSelect has been sold under the finished product name Endotelon in France for the treatment of circulatory disorders for more than 30 years, with more than 40 clinical studies supporting its efficacy,” says Megan Rooney, product support manager at Indena.
LeucoSelect is actually a standardized mixture of grape seed procyanidins, explains Rooney. During the extraction process, high-molecular-weight oligomers are discarded, leaving a higher concentration of pharmacologically active dimers, trimers, tetramers, and gallates. Indena’s second-generation grape seed product, LeucoSelect Phytosome, combines the procyanidins in LeucoSelect with soy phospholipids to improve absorption in the digestive tract.
Study Looks at ImmunoLin's Effects on Cholesterol
A study that examines the use of Proliant Inc.’s (Ankeny, IA) ImmunoLin bovine immunoglobulin to support healthy cholesterol levels will be published in the April issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
In the six-week study, by Conrad Earnest, PhD, director of the Center for Human Performance and Nutrition Research at the Cooper Institute Centers for Integrated Health Science Research (Dallas), 52 volunteers who received 5 g of ImmunoLin per day experienced a 6% drop in total cholesterol after three weeks and a 7% drop in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
“ImmunoLin seems to have correctly targeted LDL cholesterol,” Earnest says. “Unlike many natural products, ImmunoLin was effective almost immediately, showing benefits in less than one month. It’s nice to see a natural products company step up and do the research on their own product, rather than use borrowed science.”
“When compared with other proteins such as soy, ImmunoLin has been shown to lower cholesterol in a relatively short period of time and at a relatively low dose,” explains Lori Stevenson, vice president of sales at Proliant. “It also breaks the paradigm that some people have regarding the relationship between cholesterol status and consumption of animal proteins.”
According to Stevenson, proteins should be considered on a case-to-case basis. “Casein has been shown to raise cholesterol concentrations but our studies prove that the casein effect is not representative of all animal proteins. ImmunoLin also fits a new direction that cardiovascular health products will take in the next few years, which includes ingredients that have an impact on inflammation, a key indicator of risk for heart disease.”
A third fruit extract, Sytrinol from SourceOne Global Partners (Chicago), blends citrus polymethoxylated flavones (PMFs) with alpha-, delta-, and gamma-tocotrienols extracted from palm fruit. “Sytrinol is a powerful antioxidant with numerous heart health benefits,” says Jesse Lopez, president and CEO of SourceOne. “There is more than 25 years of research evidence that the PMFs found in Sytrinol deliver heart health benefits.”
For example, two short-term clinical studies have shown that Sytrinol can help lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. In addition, SourceOne has completed the first stage of a double-blind, randomized study involving Sytrinol and 120 hypercholesterolemic subjects, according to the company. “Sytrinol has been shown in multiple clinical trials to decrease apoprotein B, a structural protein needed for endogenous synthesis of LDL cholesterol,” explains Lopez. “Sytrinol has also been shown to inhibit HMG CoA reductase, a liver enzyme responsible for endogenous synthesis of cholesterol. Lowering LDL cholesterol is an important step in maintaining a healthy heart.”
Although fruit extracts have been receiving the lion’s share of attention lately, extracts from vegetables such as corn, soy, and other plants have been delivering cardiovascular benefits for some time. In fact, plant sterols have been among the most successful ingredients to date.
In 2000, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA; Rockville, MD) approved a health claim linking consumption of plant sterols to a lower risk of heart disease. In addition, the National Cholesterol Education Program at the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH; Bethesda, MD) National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests the use of plant sterols in combination with other life-style changes.
Because the chemical structure of plant sterols is similar to that of cholesterol, sterols compete with cholesterol for absorption in the body. Studies have shown that sterols can help people reduce LDL cholesterol by an average of 8–15%. According to Pam Stauffer, marketing programs manager at Cargill Health & Food Technologies (Minneapolis), which supplies CoroWise plant sterols, consumers and manufacturers alike are continuing to show interest in sterols, thanks to the clinical research supporting the ingredient.
“Consumer packaged goods companies are looking for ways to improve the health profile of their foods and beverages, and heart-healthy products are high on the list,” Stauffer says. “Evidence of this in the market includes product launches by well-known brands such as Yoplait Healthy Heart yogurt and Minute Maid Premium Heart Wise orange juice. Cargill will continue to work with its customers to launch great-tasting, convenient, heart-healthy products that contain CoroWise plant sterols.”
Stauffer adds that the number of product applications for sterols has grown recently because of new manufacturing technology. “Plant sterols are not water-loving ingredients and have therefore been limited to fat-based applications, such as margarines and spreads,” Stauffer says. “Cargill’s patented processing technology has changed all that. Now CoroWise plant sterols can be added to low-fat and nonfat foods and beverages and do not negatively impact the taste and texture of the finished product.”
Another class of phytonutrients, soy isoflavones, may also have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine (Houston) are examining the effects of isoflavones on hypertension in menopausal women. In one study that will begin later this year, women will receive enriched isoflavones while an automated device monitors their blood pressure over an entire 24-hour period.
Often overlooked, grains and grasses also can provide significant protection for the cardiovascular system. Studies suggest that both oat fiber and policosanol may be helpful for balancing cholesterol.
Consumers have been aware of the benefits of oats since at least 1997, when FDA approved a health claim requested by the Quaker Oats Co. (Chicago) linking consumption of soluble fiber from whole oats to a lower risk of heart disease. Although oatmeal is an excellent source of fiber, many Americans prefer to get their fiber from supplements.
OatVantage, a concentrated source of oat bran supplied by Nurture Inc. (Devon, PA), contains 54% oat beta glucan and provides about 0.75 g of soluble oat fiber per serving. “OatVantage is a powerful tool that consumers can easily adopt in their efforts to manage their own cholesterol levels,” says H. Griffith Parker, chairman of Nurture. “Consuming two capsules of OatVantage provides the same benefit as 20 capsules of regular oat bran. OatVantage also provides several additional health benefits, including managing blood sugar levels and decreasing appetite.”
In April, Joanne Slavin, RD, PhD, a researcher at the University of Minnesota’s (St. Paul, MN) department of food science and nutrition, presented the findings of a new study involving OatVantage at the Experimental Biology 2005 Conference in San Diego. In the double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, the researchers found that consumption of OatVantage caused a 13% drop in LDL levels without affecting high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels.
Parker adds that the study will shed new light on the effects of oat fiber on women, who have not been well represented in previous studies. “There has been some uncertainty regarding the application of the existing research as it pertains to the female population,” Parker says. “The researchers made extra efforts to ensure that women were appropriately represented in this study. Based on our findings, we can confirm that cholesterol reduction research is now as clearly demonstrated for women as it is for men.”
According to Garuda’s Faress, policosanol is a term used to describe a mixture of long-chain primary aliphatic saturated alcohols. “These alcohols are derived from the waxes of such plants as sugar cane,” he explains. “Although policosanol may be found in many sources, the profile of the aliphatic alcohols in a sugar cane–derived policosanol, such as LesstanoL, appears to be the most beneficial in terms of cholesterol management.”
While recent studies indicate that policosanol may inhibit oxidation of LDL cholesterol, Faress adds, there is still much uncertainty about how it works. “Although policosanol is known for its ability to manage cholesterol, the mechanism of action for its reported cholesterol-lowering activity is still being analyzed,” he says. “Some studies suggest that policosanol inhibits cholesterol’s synthesis at the earliest steps of cholesterol’s production process. It is believed to help maintain normal cholesterol production in the liver, and to promote normal LDL cholesterol uptake by the body’s tissues.”
Faress notes that several studies indicate that policosanol can help balance cholesterol, including an unpublished pilot study conducted by researchers at the University of California at San Diego (La Jolla, CA) in 2002. “Total cholesterol at the start of the study was 240–300 mg/dl,” he says. “At the completion of the 60-day study, total cholesterol had decreased by 14.6%, with accompanying triglycerides down 24%. As anticipated, LDL also decreased, by 23.75%, while HDL increased by 14%.”
What will the cardiovascular health supplement market look like five years from now? According to some, consumer demand will continue to grow, thanks to an aging population that is actively seeking solutions to its healthcare problems. Moreover, clinical research will be more important than ever as consumers demand more scientific substantiation for products.
“Consumers are seeking products of natural origin that effectively manage healthy blood lipids,” says SourceOne’s Lopez. “They realize the need for supplements that exert a direct mechanism of action—those that don’t just block absorption but rather manage cholesterol and triglyceride production in the liver.” Lopez predicts that increased regulation of labeling claims will force products to be supported by published clinical research.
Garuda’s Faress adds that science, and not folklore, increasingly will be used to explain the benefits of natural products. “With more interest comes more funding for research and clinical studies,” he says. “A foundation of this sort opens up a very welcome future for the industry.”