Improved heart health relates to reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), coronary heart disease (CHD), and stroke. The major risk factors for these diseases are numerous, but include smoking habits, body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and physical exercise levels.
Cholesterol is a steroid metabolite, and an essential structural component of mammalian cell membranes.
However, high blood cholesterol levels (known as hypercholesterolemia) are strongly associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD), due to the increased risk of atherosclerotic plaque formation – which can lead to an increased risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack), stroke, and vascular disease.
High blood levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol are known to contribute to this process of plaque formation, whilst ‘good’ HDL cholesterol has been found to offer protection against heart disease.
A number of dietary ingredients have been suggested to reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol, and according to Frost and Sullivan, the heart health market is dominated by four main ingredients: phytosterols, omega-3s, beta-glucan, and soy protein.
Numerous clinical trials in controlled settings have reported that daily consumption of 1.5 to 3 grams of phytosterols/-stanols from foods can reduce total cholesterol levels by between eight and 17 per cent, representing a significant reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease.