The link between dietary fats and cardiovascular diseases has necessitated a growing research interest in palm oil, the second largest consumed vegetable oil in the world. Palm oil, obtained from a tropical plant, Elaeis guineensis contains 50% saturated fatty acids, yet it does not promote atherosclerosis and arterial thrombosis. The saturated fatty acid to unsaturated fatty acid ratio of palm oil is close to unity and it contains a high amount of the antioxidants, beta-carotene, and vitamin E. Although palm oil-based diets induce a higher blood cholesterol level than do corn, soybean, safflower seed, and sunflower oils, the consumption of palm oil causes the endogenous cholesterol level to drop. This phenomenon seems to arise from the presence of the tocotrienols and the peculiar isomeric position of its fatty acids. The benefits of palm oil to health include reduction in risk of arterial thrombosis and atherosclerosis, inhibition of endogenous cholesterol biosynthesis, platelet aggregation, and reduction in blood pressure. Palm oil has been used in the fresh state and/or at various levels of oxidation. Oxidation is a result of processing the oil for various culinary purposes. However, a considerable amount of the commonly used palm oil is in the oxidized state, which poses potential dangers to the biochemical and physiological functions of the body. Unlike fresh palm oil, oxidized palm oil induces an adverse lipid profile, reproductive toxicity and toxicity of the kidney, lung, liver, and heart. This may be as a result of the generation of toxicants brought on by oxidation. In contrast to oxidized palm oil, red or refined palm oil at moderate levels in the diet of experimental animals promotes efficient utilization of nutrients, favorable body weight gains, induction of hepatic drug metabolizing enzymes, adequate hemoglobinization of red cells and improvement of immune function. Howerer, high palm oil levels in the diet induce toxicity to the liver as shown by loss of cellular radial architecture and cell size reductions which are corroborated by alanine transaminase to asparate transaminase ratios which are higher than unity. The consumtion of moderate amounts of palm oil and reduction in the level of oxidation may reduce the health risk believed to be associated with the consumption of palm oil. Red palm oil, by virtue of its beta-carotene content, may protect against vitamin A deficiency and certain forms of cancer.
The effects of beta-glucan, soy protein, isoflavones, plant sterols and stanols, garlic and tocotrienols on serum lipoproteins have been of great interest the last decade. From a critical review of the literature, it appeared that recent studies found positive as well as no effects of beta-glucan from oats on serum LDL cholesterol concentrations. These conflicting results may suggest that the cholesterol-lowering activity of products rich in oat beta-glucan depends on factors, such as its viscosity in the gastrointestinal tract, the food matrix and/or food processing. The effects of beta-glucan from barley or yeast on the lipoprotein profile are promising, but more human trials are needed to further substantiate these effects. It is still not clear whether the claimed hypocholesterolemic effects of soy can be attributed solely to the isoflavones. Several studies found no changes in serum LDL cholesterol concentrations after consumption of isolated soy isoflavones (without soy protein), indicating that a combination of soy protein and isoflavones may be needed for eliciting a cholesterol-lowering effect of soy. Therefore, the exact (combination of) active ingredients in soy products need to be identified. The daily consumption of 2-3 g of plant sterols or stanols reduces LDL cholesterol concentrations by 9-14%. It has been demonstrated that functional foods enriched with plant sterols and stanols are effective in various population groups, and in combination with cholesterol-lowering diets or drugs. Whether garlic or garlic preparations can be used as a lipid-lowering agent is still uncertain. It is important to characterize the active components in garlic and their bioavailability after ingestion. It is not very likely that tocotrienols from palm oil or rice bran oil have favorable effects on the human serum lipoprotein profile.
Tocotrienols and tocopherols are isoforms of vitamin E. Vitamin E may exhibit antioxidant, prooxidant and non-antioxidant activities depending upon circumstances. In this study, the effect of tocotrienols and a-tocopherol on the activities of HMG CoA reductase and cholesterol 7 a-hydroxylase was investigated. Pure tocotrienols were isolated from palm fatty acid distillate and pure a-tocopherol was obtained commercially. Guinea pigs were treated with different dosages of tocotrienols and a-tocopherol. After the treatment period, animals were sacrificed and liver microsomes were prepared. HMG CoA reductase and cholesterol 7a-hydroxylase were assayed using tracer techniques. Our results showed that the effects of tocotrienols and a-tocopherol on the activities of both the enzymes were dose-dependent. At low dosages, both tocotrienols and a-tocopherol exhibited an inhibitory effect on both the enzymes. Moreover, tocotrienols were a much stronger inhibitors than a-tocopherol. At high dosages, on the other hand, tocotrienols and a-tocopherol showed opposite effects on the enzymes. While tocotrienols continued to exhibit an inhibitory effect, a-tocopherol actually exhibited a stimulatory effect on both the enzymes. A possible explanation for this observation is suggested.