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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 May, 2004, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Citrus peel can cut cholesterol
An alternatives to standard drugs?
Citrus peel may not be very appetising - but research suggests it could be very good for you.

US scientists fattened up hamsters on a high-cholesterol diet, and then fed them compounds found in tangerine and orange peel.

They found the compounds signficantly lowered the animals' levels of LDL cholesterol - which is associated with heart disease.

The study is published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.

We believe that super-flavonoids have the potential to rival or even beat the cholesterol-lowering effect of some prescription drugs.
Dr Elzbieta Kurowska
The compounds, known as polymethoxylated flavones (PMFs), are antioxidants that belong to a group of plant chemicals called flavonoids. Flavonoids exist in a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as tea and red wine.

A pilot study suggests that humans derive the same benefit from the peel compounds, and researchers are testing whether a supplement with combines PMFs with a form of vitamin E can reduce cholesterol levels.

Lead researcher Dr Elzbieta Kurowska, of the Canadian company KGK Synergize, said citrus juice contains only a small amount of the relevant PMFs as the compounds are not soluble in water. Peel, on the other hand, contains 20 times the level.

In addition, the peel-derived compounds are more concentrated and easily absorbed and metabolised by the body.

In the study hamsters were given the two PMFs most commonly found in citrus fruits - tangeretin and nobiletin.

A diet containing just 1% PMFs was enough to cut the animals' cholesterol by up to 40%.

Powerful effect

Other hamsters were given a diet enriched with two other flavonoids, hesperetin and naringenin.

This diet also lowered LDL cholesterol - but it took three times as much of the compounds to yield the same effect seen with the PMFs.

Dr Kurowska said it appears the compounds may work by lowering the secretion of cholesterol from the liver.

She said: "Our study has shown that super-flavonoids have the most potent cholesterol-lowering effect of any other citrus flavonoid.

"We believe that super-flavonoids have the potential to rival or even beat the cholesterol-lowering effect of some prescription drugs, without the risk of side effects."

The Department of Health announced earlier this month that cholesterol-lowering statin drugs - previously only available on prescription - were to be made available over-the-counter at pharmacists.

Sarah Schenker, a dietician from the British Nutrition Foundation, said: "It is not a big surprise that they have found something in plants that can have this effect - after all, cholesterol-reducing products such as Benecol contain extract of bark.

"But whether they are useful will depend on how strong their effect is. Statins are very strong drugs."

Previous research has also indicated that citrus juice can reduce the risk of cancer.

Judy O'Sullivan, a cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "We will be interested to see if similar results emerge from long-term studies involving people.

"It is also important to stress that whatever the cholesterol-reducing potential of citrus peel, our advice remains the same: regular physical activity and eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables and low in saturated fat are the best ways to avoid high cholesterol."

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