University at Buffalo Researchers Receive Grant to Study Phytosterols as Safe and Effective Alternative to Lower Cholesterol during Pregnancy

Published October 9, 2015

“This grant will allow us to not only examine standard cholesterol measurement like total cholesterol, but also cholesterol-oxygenation products which are believed to be important biomarkers of arterial function”
Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences

While it is natural for women to experience an increased level of cholesterol during pregnancy, women with pre-existing high cholesterol before pregnancy either due to genetic or dietary factors experience a condition known as Maternal Supraphysiological Hypercholesterolemia. This excessive level of cholesterol has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease in both mother and child. Even more concerning is the fact that there are limited safe and effective treatment options currently on the market to treat women suffering from this condition.

That is where University at Buffalo researcher Dr. Todd Rideout comes into play.

Dr. Rideout, an assistant professor in the department of exercise and nutrition sciences at UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, has received a one-year, $88,000 grant from the National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health and the Office of Dietary Supplements to examine the potential efficacy of phytosterols – a plant-based cholesterol lowering compounds – as a safe and effective treatment option.

In 2013, Dr. Rideout received a five-year National Institute of Health training grant to examine how phytosterols could be used to treat pregnant women with high cholesterol with a focus on maternal, as well as offspring health.

“If you look at blood cholesterol levels during a normal pregnancy, every woman is hypercholesterolemic,” explains Dr. Rideout.  “But for women that have high cholesterol even before they become pregnant, their levels escalate to excessive levels during pregnancy.”

While there are currently cholesterol-lowering drugs on the market, like statins, Dr. Rideout says those drugs are not considered safe for use during pregnancy.

“The problem right now is that a lot of these lipid lowering drugs are contraindicated for women who wish to become pregnant or are already pregnant, so there is a real need to find some kind of alternative cholesterol lowering therapy for these women.”

Dr. Rideout also notes that one of the big treatment dilemmas for doctors is that there are a lot of unknowns about the effects that many cholesterol-lowering drugs have on fetal growth and development, and that further research is needed to better understand the potential long-term impacts on children born from woman with high cholesterol levels.

“A lot of research shows that offspring of women who have excessive blood cholesterol levels during pregnancy are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Offspring are also predisposed to having high cholesterol when they are born and even have early signs of fatty streaks in their arteries which can develop into arterial lesions as they get older.”

With this grant, Rideout will expand his research to more fully characterize the cardiovascular disease risk benefit of phytosterol supplementation during pregnancy.

“This grant will allow us to not only examine standard cholesterol measurement like total cholesterol, but also cholesterol-oxygenation products which are believed to be important biomarkers of arterial function.”

Rideout also hopes that his research will result in some positive outcomes for pregnant women and their children in the future.

“It’s this concept of maternal programing.  It’s about figuring out what an increase of risk we have for all kinds of different diseases and how that relates to a mother and the whole environment a child grows up in, both in utero and after you are born.  A lot of questions still remain, but hopefully we’re doing something that downstream, can result in positive health benefits.”

In addition to Dr. Todd Rideout, other University at Buffalo researcher project collaborators include Dr. Mulchand Patel, Department of biochemistry and Dr. Richard Browne, Department of biotechnical and clinical laboratory sciences.