The extract from the Italian citrus fruit bergamot successfully reduced cholesterol levels in recent studies, The Wall Street Journal recently reported. The supplement allowed study participants to cut back on statin dosages as well.
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Commonly used as a flavoring in Earl Grey tea, the extract of the bitter citrus fruit bergamot was shown to reduce cholesterol levels in four recent human studies. Bergamot also was credited with raising good cholesterol, removing fatty deposits in the liver and lowering blood sugar levels.
In one of the studies, published in 2013 in the International Journal of Cardiology, 77 patients took 1,000 milligrams daily of bergamot extract over one month. The participants’ cholesterol dropped from an average of 278 milligrams per deciliter of blood to 191.
The study researchers also reported that adding bergamot allowed them to cut by half participants’ dosage of the cholesterol drug rosuvastatin without reducing its effectiveness.
The secret ingredient? Bergamot contains powerful antioxidants called flavonoids. Earl Grey tea does not pack a potent enough punch to affect cholesterol; the studies reviewed use of concentrated extract in tablet or capsule form.
Kicking statin side effects
Statins, a widely used family of cholesterol-lowering drugs, can have significant side effects, including muscle pain and weakness. In contrast, heartburn was the only side effect noted in the initial bergamot studies. While it could eventually be recommended as a complement to statins, with the potential for a lower statin dose, larger scale studies are necessary to fully establish the supplement’s safety. Bergamot extract must be handled with special care, as exposure to direct sunlight can render the extract toxic. As with any supplement, it is best to discuss with a physician.
David Frid, MD, a cardiologist with Cleveland Clinic’s Section of Preventive Cardiology, commented on the study in the Wall Street Journal article. “I would tell a patient the caveat is, if you want to try it, be aware that we don’t really know its side effects.” He also pointed out that statins have documented health outcome improvements, such as reducing heart attacks, while bergamot has not yet been reviewed for ultimate heart health outcomes. Dr. Frid notes that it is important to consult with a physician before switching cholesterol medications or adjusting a statin dosage.
Dr. Frid acknowledged, “The data looks very good.” But, he went on to recommend the results be emulated by another research group to vet the extract’s cholesterol-lowering capabilities.
The article noted researchers’ financial ties to bergamot supplement producers, another reason to pursue larger scale, independent studies of this potential new therapy.