Policosanol from a refined blend of Cuban sugarcane wax alcohols has been found to reduce overall cholesterol and increase 'good' HDL cholesterol, while recent trials conducted in Korea have suggested that it could be the key to maintaining vascular health.
It can also be isolated from beeswax, cereal grains, grasses, leaves, fruits, nuts, and seeds of many foods, but it is the Cuban sugarcane variety that is most interesting researchers in Korea.
Professor Kyung-Hyun Cho, PhD from the Department of Medical Biotechnology at Yeungnam University, in Korea, recently spoke to NutraIngredients-Asia about his research, which began four years ago when he first read about how it could improve serum lipid profiles.
He said, “Having never come across an ingredient that could potentially increase HDL cholesterol, I was very interested in learning all I could about policosanol obtained from the Cuban sugarcane wax alcohol.”
He went on to hold an eight-week clinical trial to investigate the physiological effects policosanol consumption had on lipoprotein quality in young and middle-aged subjects: “We compared the functionality of lipoproteins and expression levels of apolipoproteins, as well as changes in body fat, blood pressure and serum lipid profiles.”
The trial’s results showed that policosanol consumption improves HDL functionality by inhibiting cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP); it also lowered visceral fat and blood pressure in all the subjects.
Apart from its ability to lower visceral fat, blood pressure and cholesterol, policosanol is also said to have anti-aging properties, an important factor especially since aging alters HDL composition and leads to functional impairment that may result in the onset or progression of cardiovascular disease.
Cho said the study evaluated “changes in HDL and LDL compositions and functionality in terms of antioxidant, anti-glycation and anti-aging activities after the consumption of policosanol” and found that “functional enhancements of HDL can prevent and / or attenuate aging-related diseases, hypertension, diabetes and coronary heart disease”.
Presently, policosanol is commonly used in Latin America to manage dyslipidemia, and is sold over-the-counter as a supplement to treat hypercholesterolemia in certain countries. According to Cho, it is also an “effective food ingredient and dietary supplement for lowering LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and triglyceride concentration in human models”.
Furthermore, it is “already gaining significant traction in the supplement market, most notably in Korea and Cuba, following extensive clinical trial data”.
Besides its multiple health benefits, policosanol’s growing appeal can be attributed to its versatility: it can be used as a functional health food, as well as in combination with other synergistic ingredients, such as omega-3.
Though policosanol is already used in some countries as a food ingredient and dietary supplement, consumer awareness of its potential benefits is still limited to Latin America, though it is gradually growing in certain parts of Asia.
Cho said, “Cholesterol is a complex health topic, especially the relationship between HDL and LDL. However, it is one that consumers are becoming increasingly savvy about, due to the amount of research being done on the effects of cholesterol and cardiovascular health.”
He added that the effects of policosanol on cholesterol are increasingly “well understood in both the Korean and Taiwanese markets, where it is widely known as a cholesterol-managing ingredient”.
Now that Cho and his colleagues have evaluated policosanol consumption’s physiological role in enhancing HDL functionality, as well as in lowering visceral fat and blood pressure, “the next steps are to further investigate the effects (of policosanol on) increasing HDL cholesterol”, which he said would be “through studying the effect of policosanol consumption in subjects with age-related and autoimmune diseases”.