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HEALTH REPORT - May 22, 2002: Guggulsterone & Cholesterol - 2002-05-21

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Researchers say that a natural substance found in some trees can control high cholesterol in laboratory animals. Cholesterol is a fatty substance in the blood. Too much of it can attach to the inside of blood vessels, restrict blood flow, and cause heart disease.

The guggul (GOO-gle) tree grows in dry areas of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. A substance found inside the guggul tree has been used in India for two-thousand years to control weight and treat arthritis.

About forty years ago, an Indian researcher found that the substance was effective against heart disease. Later studies in India showed that it lowered cholesterol. In India, the substance has been an approved treatment for high cholesterol for almost twenty years.

American researchers at the Baylor School of Medicine in Houston, Texas reported the results of recent work on the substance in the publication Science. They showed that the liquid inside the guggul tree contains a compound called guggulsterone (GOO-gle-STER-own). They discovered how guggulsterone controls cholesterol levels. It blocks the action of a receptor called F-X-R. A receptor is a protein that sends messages to cells. F-X-R helps control the amount of cholesterol in the body. Blocking the action of the F-X-R receptor would mean that more cholesterol is naturally removed from the body.

Other researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas tested guggulsterone on two groups of mice. One group had normal F-X-R receptors. The other group had no F-X-R receptors. The cholesterol levels dropped in the livers of mice with the F-X-R receptor, but not in the others. The researchers say this proves that guggulsterone works by affecting the F-X-R receptor.

The researchers do not know how guggulsterone affects the F-X-R receptor. They say more tests must be done. However, they say the substance might be used to control cholesterol in people who cannot take the drugs now used for that purpose.

The researchers say the discovery supports the idea that some traditional medicines may have important uses in modern medicine.

Guggulsterone can be bought in stores around the world. However, the researchers say people should not use it without medical advice. They say guggulsterone can affect the action of other drugs.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.