Lowering Cholesterol
Saponins Lower Cholesterol and Reduces Inflammation

Cholestrol is important to a healthy body. Cholesterol forms cell membranes, some hormones and is necessary for digestion. But a high level of cholesterol in the blood (hypercholesterolemia) is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Your heart is about the size of your fist. It gets its own blood supply through small coronary arteries that are about the diameter of a strand of spaghetti. Shut off one of these strands and a piece of your heart muscle dies. Even in people who look and feel well, a waxy fat-like substance called plaque can build up in arteries like silent snow, often going undetected until serious damage is done.

"The blood cholesterol-lowering properties of dietary saponins are of particular interest in human nutrition. One of the most prominent research programs on this subject was that of Dr. Rene Malinow at the Oregon Regional Primate Center, whose research (published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1997) demonstrated unequivocally the cholesterol-lowering properties of saponins. This desirable effect is achieved by the binding of bile acids and cholesterol by saponins. Bile acids form mixed micelles (molecular aggregates) with cholesterol, facilitating its absorption. Cholesterol is continually secreted into the intestine via the bile, with much of it subsequently reabsorbed. Saponins cause a depletion of body cholesterol by preventing its reabsorption, thus increasing its excretion."

Peter R. Cheeke, Ph D
Professor of Comparative Nutrition
Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University

Reducing Inflammation
Not long ago, most doctors thought of heart attacks as primarily a plumbing problem. Over the years, fatty deposits would slowly build up on the insides of major coronary arteries until they grew so big that they cut off the supply of blood to a vital part of the heart.

As imaging techniques improved, doctors found, much to their surprise, that the most dangerous plaques weren't necessarily all that large. Something that hadn't yet been identified was causing those deposits to burst, triggering massive clots that cut off the coronary blood supply, and for many years researchers have suspected that inflammation could be the cause.

Inflammation can destabilize cholesterol deposits in the coronary arteries, leading to heart attacks and potentially even strokes. It chews up nerve cells in the brains of Alzheimer's victims. It may even foster the proliferation of abnormal cells and facilitate their transformation into cancer. In other words, chronic inflammation may be the engine that drives many of the most feared illnesses.

Reducing inflammation appears to be just as important in fighting heart disease as lowering cholesterol levels, according to new research just published in The New England Journal Of Medicine.

"For the first time, we have hard clinical evidence, that lowering inflammation lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke and cardiovascular disease."

Dr. Ridker, Cardiologist
Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston.

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Published Research Reports

Sterodial saponins break down the high molecular fats in foods whose absorption contributes to high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, hypertriglyceridemian, and hypercholesterolemia.

"One of our most significant findings was that no patient taking saponin extract for 6 months or more continued to show an abnormally high blood pressure or excessive blood triglyceride and cholesterol levels. In other words, there were permanent benefits."

Dr. Robert Bingham
Arthritis News Today, Vol 2, No 6

Masai Diet Wards Off Heart Disease
Boris Weintraub, Geographica

Milk and meat meals of the Masai of Kenya and Tanzania would terrify an American fearing cholesterol and heart disease. Yet Masai cholesterol levels are one-third lower than the U.S. average, and heart disease is almost unknown. New research offers a clue: Masai also eat a soup laced with bitter bark and roots that contain cholesterol-lowering substances called saponins.

"Masai don't worry about cholesterol; it's a non-issue to them. And they love fat," says Timothy Johns of McGill University in Montreal. Supporting his findings, studies show that urban Masai without access to the bitter plants do develop heart disease.

Scientists are evaluating other saponins potential for lowering cholesterol in the blood, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease. Some saponins, taken orally, combine with cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract, making cholesterol unavailable for absorption. Thus, saponin derivatives may yield a natural agent for treating or preventing heart disease.

Manuel F Balandrin, Chemist
Science News, Vol 148

Saponins if regularly included in the diet, may help the body protect itself from cancer. Saponin and saponin-like compounds have shown evidence that they can buttress the body's ability to thwart cancer and heart disease.

A. Venket Rao, Chemist
University of Toronto
Ontario, Canada

Saponins form strong insoluble complexes with cholesterol. This has many important implications, including cholesterol-lowering activity in humans.

Peter R. Cheeke, Ph D
Professor of Comparative Nutrition
Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University

Saponins - A Useful Treatment for Hypercholesterolaemia

There is now a substantial body of evidence that dietary saponins can lower plasma cholesterol concentrations. They act either directly, by inhibiting absorption of cholesterol from the small intestine, or indirectly, by inhibiting reabsorption of bile acids. Where direct inhibition of cholesterol absorption occurs, saponins could prevent absorption not only of a high proportion of dietary cholesterol, but also a high proportion of the cholesterol derived from bile and the desquamatior, of mucosal cells.

Saponins are potentially of great significance in human nutrition since it seems likely that the low saponin content of the typical Western diet may be partly responsible for the high incidences of heart disease in Western countries.

D. Oakenfull and G. Sidhu European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1990) 44, 79-88

According to A. Venket Rao, a professor and researcher at the University of Toronto's Department of Nutritional Sciences, saponins which generally pass through our digestive system without being absorbed--bind onto the cholesterol that we eat. Then the two make their exit together, lowering cholesterol levels.

Rao and his colleagues believe the saponins may even help prevent colon cancer. Normally, bile acid pours into the stomach to help absorb fats from foods. Some bacteria in the large intestine turn the bile into a substance that is highly carcinogenic. That's why a high-fat diet increases the risk of colon cancer. Research suggests that when saponins travel through, they stop the toxic material from forming.

The evidence of saponins' benefits is so compelling that several pharmaceutical companies are already designing saponin-based drugs to lower cholesterol and to enhance the effectiveness of vaccines.

Jennifer Reid Holmes
READER'S DIGEST August, 1996

Saponins can bind cholesterol and thus interfer with cell growth and division. While drugs have side effects, many of them serious, saponins are safe.

Mary Clarke, Ph D Extension Specialist, Nutrition Education
Department of Human Nutrition, Kansas State University

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