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Could saponins be a useful treatment for hypercholesterolemia

Could saponins be a useful treatment for hypercholesterolemia

European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 44(1): 79-88

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 the 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 desquamation of mucosal cells. In inhibiting intestinal absorption of cholesterol or bile acids, the action of saponins, like that of cholestyramine, is confined to the intestinal lumen. Reduced entry of cholesterol or bile acids into the enterohepatic circulation results in the stimulation of cholesterol synthesis, mainly by the liver (Cayen, 1971). In recent years, drugs such as compactin and mevinolin have been developed to suppress cholesterolgenesis in the liver. In certain foodstuffs, naturally occurring compounds, such as tocotrienols, may produce the same effect (Qureshi et al., 1986). Foods rich in such compounds could be combined with saponin-containing foods to control hypercholesterolaemia more effectively. In comparison with drug therapy, such foods should have few side effects and would be gastronomically and economically more attractive. The saponins naturally present in food-stuffs are non-toxic. Saponin-containing foods could thus usefully contribute to cholesterol-lowering diets. Plant foods that could best be recommended to hypercholesterolaemic patients are chickpeas, the different varieties of Phaseolus vulgaris such as navy beans ('baked beans'), also lentils, soya beans and alfalfa or fenugreek sprouts. Increasing the intake of these foods would have the additional benefit of displacing meat and thus decreasing consumption of saturated fat.

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