Cholesterol treatment guideline has little to say about polyphenols, other natural heart health ingredients

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Photo courtesy of Polyphenolics
Photo courtesy of Polyphenolics
A recently published clinical guideline for the management of blood cholesterol gives an indication of how far the dietary supplement industry has to go in convincing practitioners of the efficacy of its products. In its 120 pages, the guideline spends all of two paragraphs on lifestyle factors and preventive strategies.

The new guideline was published in November and is the result of a joint task force of the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. The report was published in the journal Circulation​.

First, a couple of caveats: Dietary supplements by law cannot claim to treat or prevent any illness. So to some degree it makes sense that clinicians would not turn to them first to help patients who already have high cholesterol. Also, it should be noted that the guideline would be aimed first and foremost at specialists, who likely would be consulted only after a patient has been referred with a treatable condition.

Paucity of information on prevention

Nevertheless, it is telling that so little effort is spent in the guideline on discussing how to help patients to keep from crossing over the line into the treatment category, rather than spending page after page on how to fix the boat after it has sprung a leak. In the 120-page document, which includes 69 pages of actual text, only two short sections were devoted to lifestyle factors in the prevention of development of hyperlipidemia.  

“Patients should consume a dietary pattern that emphasizes intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, healthy protein sources (low-fat dairy products, low-fat poultry (without the skin), fish/seafood, and nuts), and nontropical vegetable oils; and limits intake of sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red meats,” ​the guideline states.

One other section of the guideline addresses prevention specifically.

“Primary prevention of ASCVD over the life span requires attention to prevention or management of ASCVD risk factors beginning early in life,” ​the guideline states. It then refers the reader to a table that includes one statement about encouraging a healthy lifestyle and then devotes the rest of the information on statin therapy, starting as early as age 8.

Lipid ingredients, polyphenols shown to have effects

A number of dietary ingredients have been researched for their positive effects on blood lipid profiles including lipid ingredients and many plant and fruit extracts rich in phytochemicals. 

Omega-3s, for example, have been shown to have positive effects on high triglyceride levels​, but the effects on LDL cholesterol specifically are less clear cut. Levels can actually increase slightly, but the size of the LDL particles changes as well, which is a good thing. And HDL (the ‘good’ cholesterol) goes up, too, indicating a general positive overall trend. 

Extra virgin olive oil, which is rich is some polyphenolic compounds such as hydroxytyrosol, has been suggested to benefit blood lipid profiles via a multifaceted action​ that includes both anti-inflammatory aspects and the promotion of cholesterol efflux. Olive is, of course, one of the main components of the Mediterranean diet, which is frequently recommended for heart health.

Drug hits one target; supplements hit many

But this multifactorial approach doesn’t fit neatly into the mostly drug-focused paradigm of the new guideline, said James Kennedy, PhD president of ingredient supplier Polyphenolics, which has a line of grape seed extracts which are among the more comprehensively researched polyphenol-based ingredients on the market.

“There is no question that statins can dramatically reduce your blood cholesterol levels,” ​Kennedy told NutraIngredients-USA. “They absolutely can reduce cholesterol much further than any polyphenol from a fruit or vegetable.”

“But for me it’s about lifestyle first. It just struck me as odd that here is a group concerned about our heart health and they were pretty much exclusively recommending drugs,” ​he said.

Kennedy said that cardiovascular disease is a multifaceted condition. Statins target one aspect of this situation and hits that nail squarely on the head. But natural ingredients, perhaps especially when offered in combination, take a more comprehensive approach to the problem.

Polyphenolics offers a line of grape seed extracts that includes MegaNatural BP, which has been researched for its effect on supporting blood pressure in the health range. That effect takes into account the healthy flow dynamics of the circulatory system, something that a myopic focus on cholesterol numbers glosses over.

Evidence backing many polyphenols

Grape seed extracts are just one of many polyphenol-based ingredients on the market that have been researched for their benefits in ameliorating the risk factors of CVD.

“If you look at cardiovascular disease as a whole, a lot of polyphenols – and grape seed extract in particular – address the various areas including blood pressure and blood glucose as well as hypercholesteremia. Our industry offers a food-first approach which makes sense to consumers. They look at supplementation as a complement to everything else they are doing to address all aspects of heart disease, not just one piece of it,” ​Kennedy said.

The entourage effect implied by the research backing polyphenols (they all appear to do slightly different things) is now starting to be borne out by research. A recent study in the journal Nutrients ​showed that just two weeks on a polyphenol-poor diet could alter vascular biomarkers​ in a group of healthy men. 

And a recent review article in the journal Molecules​had this to say: “Consumption of polyphenols from plant extracts and fruits increases antioxidant levels in plasma which protect vasculature and improve anti-inflammatory and lipid profiles, blood pressure, HDL-C, and vascular function.”  ​The review focuses on a number of polyphenols and other naturally occurring compounds, including gallic acid and punicalagin from pomegranate. 

Combo products increasing in popularity

Kennedy said there is increasing interest among supplement product formulators in taking advantage of the evidence supporting the multifactorial effects of polyphenols.

“We do come into contact with customers who say they want to put together a heart health formula and want to know what they can combine our grape seed extract with,” he said.

“Recently we had a customer who wanted to combine our grape seed extract with a blueberry extract and a bergamot extract. When you go into the store you frequently see our extract in formulation with other ingredients,” Kennedy said.

The beauty of the natural approach to heart health is these ingredients can be combined with virtually no concern about antagonistic interactions, Kennedy said. Polyphenolics has continually worked on its GRAS dossier, with higher and higher dosages proven to be safe, he said.

“For the most part these are natural products and they are not known to have any cross indications. With statins you have to dial the dose in and the patient has to be monitored very carefully,” ​he said.

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