News | 3 June 2019

Research on the effect of plant stanol on asthma

Plant sterol and stanol esters are well known functional food ingredients with a long proven history of cholesterol lowering activity via inhibiting intestinal cholesterol absorption. It is generally accepted that serum LDL cholesterol concentrations can be reduced 8 to 10% with a daily intake of 2.0 g sterols or stanols (Gylling et al., Atherosclerosis 2014). With a grant from the Dutch Topsector Life Sciences and Health (LSH) researchers will investigate if plant stanols also have a positive effect on patients with mild asthma.

Lately, there is increasing attention for the effects of plant sterols and stanols beyond lowering serum LDL cholesterol concentrations. For example, in 2016 researchers from the Maastricht University showed that consuming yoghurts enriched with plant stanol esters by asthma patients strengthened their immune system (Brull et al., Am J Clin Nutr 2016). In more detail, the immune response was directed away from a typical T-helper 2 cell response, which is normally responsible for their symptoms. Although this was a strong result indicating a beneficial role of plant stanols in changing immune cell behavior in asthma subjects, the study was not designed to measure the impact of plant stanols on asthma symptoms.

This year Raisio Group, a well-known Finnish company producing functional foods enriched with plant stanol esters decided to evaluate whether plant stanols could have clinical benefits in asthma subjects. Together with a grant from the Dutch Topsector Life Sciences and Health (LSH), the company invested in a placebo-controlled study that started in March 2019 in the Maastricht University Medical Center (MUMC). In this long-term study with a follow up of 1 year, patients with proven mild Asthma (step 2 according the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) criteria) will consume a supplement product providing 3 grams of plant stanols/day. Besides evaluating changes in asthma complaints (e.g. lung volume, medication use, disease load, etc.), also changes in lipoprotein metabolism and cardiovascular risk will be explored. The research team hypothesized that asthma complaints will be reduced and simultaneously the elevated cardiovascular risk of this asthma population will be reduced, suggesting a double health benefit. For this study the infrastructure of the Metabolic Research Unit Maastricht (MRUM) of the Maastricht University will be used.

Gylling et al. Plant sterols and plant stanols in the management of dyslipidaemia and prevention of cardiovascular disease. Atherosclerosis. 2014;232(2):346-60. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2013.11.043.
Brull et al. Dietary plant stanol ester consumption improves immune function in asthma patients: results of a randomized, double-blind clinical trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016;103(2):444-53. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.117531.

Further information;
Prof. Jogchum Plat
Department of Nutrition and Movement Sciences, School for Nutrition and Translational research in Metabolism, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands.
Phone: +31(0)43 3881309