Hearty oils

Despite improvements in recent years heart disease remains the leading cause of death in Australia according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Over the last ten years the proportion of deaths due to circulatory diseases has decreased from 38 per cent in 2001 to 32 per cent in 2010. The next most common cause of death is cancer causing 30 per cent of all deaths in 2010. So while things are improving heart disease remains the most significant cause of death causing one in every three deaths. Ways to reduce heart disease risk are still therefore of the highest health priority and that means reducing factors like high blood pressure and cholesterol. When a new study suggests that a combination of cooking oils can be as effective as a pharmaceutical drug in lowering both blood pressure and cholesterol that is tasty news.

The oils in question were sesame oil and rice bran oil and researchers blended them because both are low in saturated fat and have a reputation for lowering cholesterol. In their study the researchers divided people with mild to moderately high blood pressure into three groups. One group was treated with a common calcium channel blocking drug (nifedipine) that is used to lower blood pressure. The second group was asked to use around 30 millilitres of the oil blend daily in their meals. The third group received a combination of both oil and drug.

After 60 days systolic blood pressure (the top number in your blood pressure reading) dropped for all three groups. It dropped by an average 14 points in the oil group, an average 16 points in the drug group, and by 36 points in the group that used both.

Diastolic blood pressure (the lower number in your reading) also dropped; by an average 11 points for those on the oil, by 12 for those on the drug, and by 24 for those on the combination.

Cholesterol levels were also beneficially effected. Those on the oils had a 26 per cent drop in their bad LDL cholesterol and a 9.5 per cent increase in good HDL cholesterol. No changes in cholesterol were found in those on the drug which is not surprising because that is not its intended effect. Drugs by their nature are isolated and targeted while the health effects of foods and plants are usually multifaceted.

The reasons for the effects of sesame and rice bran oil are their favourable fatty acid profiles but also the fact that they also contain antioxidants such as sesamin, sesamol, sesamolin, and oryzanol. By lowering cholesterol and having a protective effect on blood vessels it seems that these oils help to keep blood vessels open to the extent that they are virtually as effective as pharmaceutical medication.

You should never self-medicate for conditions like high blood pressure and replicating the blend used in this study is not assured. However, these results do indicate that as far as your arteries are concerned it really is a case of “open sesame (and rice bran)”.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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