WASHINGTON — Corn bran should be added to the bandwagon of fiber-rich foods showing promise of significantly lowering cholesterol levels in the blood stream, researchers say.
Georgetown University Hospital researchers found when people ate raw corn bran their serum cholesterol was lowered 20% and triglycerides 31%--"the same order of magnitude as reported for oat bran and bean diets," the researchers said.
High levels of cholesterol and certain fatty acids, such as triglycerides, have been linked to the development of fatty deposits that can clog blood vessels and cause heart attacks.
In a recent article in the Journal of the American Dietetic Assn., the researchers reported they gave a corn bran supplement to seven people with significantly elevated levels of serum cholesterol.
The bran, which had been finely ground, was flavored with garlic powder, black pepper and ground celery seed and was sprinkled over tomato juice or soup. Participants were asked to take about two-thirds of an ounce, or three packets, of fiber daily for six weeks and about 1.3 ounces daily for a second six-week period.
No other advice about changing diet or life style was given to the participants, who had been under treatment for cholesterol problems an average of 2.4 years and who, on average, were 55 years old. All subjects had been trying to control their cholesterol by maintaining normal weight and reducing fat consumption.
The five men and two women taking part in the study had baseline serum cholesterol levels exceeding 240 milligrams per deciliter. The normal level should be about 160 milligrams per deciliter.
After 12 weeks of eating the corn bran supplement, all but one patient experienced a reduction in serum cholesterol levels and all had lower triglyceride levels. In addition, the ratio of harmful cholesterol to so-called good cholesterol--the high-density lipoproteins which help clear cholesterol from the blood--improved in all but one case.
Researchers said they found no serious side effects associated with the increased consumption of corn bran. "None of the subjects complained of serious discomfort or flatulence," the article states.
When the fiber supplementation was stopped, the subjects' cholesterol and triglyceride levels rose to pre-study levels.
Aaron Altschul, a co-author of the study and director emeritus of Georgetown's Dietary Management and Eating Disorders Program, said corn bran is relatively cheap because it is a by-product of the manufacture of corn starch. The study was partially funded by a major corn processor, A. E. Staley Manufacturing Co., of Decatur, Ill.
Altschul said a person would have to eat "an awful lot" of ordinary corn products to get an amount of fiber equal to the bran supplement used in the study.
Although researchers say oat bran, beans and some insoluble materials have proven equally effective in lowering cholesterol, they note corn fiber is plentiful and has fewer calories than other cereal fibers. For example, wheat bran contains about 57 calories per ounce, while corn bran has about 14 calories per ounce.
Describing the taste of his corn bran supplement as "tolerable," Altschul noted corn bran is currently being added to some brands of high-fiber cereal.
"Although our findings appear promising, corn bran should be considered just another tool in the fight against cholesterol. Nothing is a miracle. What people have to do is control their fat, cholesterol and caloric intake," Altschul said.