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Study: Folk remedy used in India cuts cholesterol
BY PAUL RECER
WASHINGTON - For more than 2,000 years, healers in India have used a tree resin as a folk medicine to treat a variety of ailments. Modern researchers now find it effective in controlling high cholesterol.
The tree is known in India as guggul. Its sap contains a compound that blocks the action of a cell receptor, called FXR, which helps regulate a body's cholesterol level, said David Moore, a molecular biologist at the Baylor School of Medicine in Houston.
He is coauthor of a study appearing today in Science Express, the electronic version of the journal Science.
''Our results suggest that other compounds that could affect FXR could also control cholesterol,'' Moore said. ''This mechanism is completely different from the action of statin drugs,'' which are taken by millions to control cholesterol.
In studies at his lab, Moore and Nancy Urizar showed that the guggul resin compound, called guggulsterone, acted on the FXR receptor.
Dr. David Mangelsdorf and Amy Liverman, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, then tested the compound in two types of mice -- one with a normal FXR receptor and one without FXR.
The study found that cholesterol levels dropped in the livers of mice that had the FXR receptor, but not in the others, thus proving that guggulsterone worked by affecting the FXR receptor.
Dr. Mitchell A. Lazar, an endocrinologist at the University of Pennsylvania, said the study is important because it suggests a new drug pathway for controlling cholesterol.
''We need to have multiple ways to lower lipids [cholesterol],'' Lazar said.
He said the work advances the notion that some traditional medicinal compounds may have important uses in modern medicine and shows the need to research such compounds to understand their value.
Exactly how guggulsterone affects the FXR receptor is unknown, Moore said.
''FXR regulates a number of genes and we are not sure which are the primary targets for lipid [cholesterol] control,'' he said. ``But we have shown that this is a new mechanism for controlling cholesterol.''
He said finding a new way to reduce cholesterol could be very important for patients who cannot tolerate the side effects that some people experience with statin drugs.
While guggulsterone is commonly available in health food stores, Moore said he could not recommend people take it for cholesterol control because there is some evidence the compound affects the action of other drugs.
More studies are needed, Moore said. The guggul tree grows in dry areas of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.