“A man is as old as his arteries.”
Thomas Sydenham, MD, English Physician, 1624-1689
Even in the 17th century, physicians recognized that longevity was tied to heart health. The human circulatory system is made up of 60,000 miles of arteries, veins, and vessels, and the heart pumps 1,800 gallons of blood through this labyrinth every day. That’s a lot of hard work for your heart muscle, and as you age the heart becomes vulnerable to diseases like atherosclerosis, which is caused by high cholesterol levels. Recent research points to a potential dietary aid for lowering cholesterol and protecting against heart disease. Annatto, a natural spice used as red food coloring and sourced from the seeds of the achiote tree, not only lowered cholesterol levels, but also reduced inflammatory markers of heart disease in test patients.
How Cholesterol Causes Heart Disease
There are two types of cholesterol: LDL cholesterol, which clogs arteries, and HDL cholesterol, which clears arteries. Your blood vessels also have to contend with another type of fat called triglycerides, also tied to heart disease.
Cholesterol contributes to heart disease by accumulating in the blood and binding to the walls of your arteries. This causes the arteries to harden, a process called atherosclerosis. When your arteries narrow and harden, blood flow to the heart becomes hindered. Blood carries oxygen to your heart, and when this flow is impeded, cardiovascular disease sets in. You may suffer from chest pain and other disorders…and when blood flow to the heart is completely blocked, a heart attack occurs. To prevent atherosclerosis and ensuing cardiovascular disorders, it’s important to keep your cholesterol levels regulated.
How Annatto May Help
Vitamin E consists of 8 molecules: 4 tocopherols and 4 tocotrienols. Alpha-tocopherol is the type of vitamin E primarily used in multivitamins, but research indicates that this type of tocopherol may actually interfere with the uptake and function of tocotrienols. Tocotrienols are found in 3 main food sources: rice, palm, and annatto, but annatto is the only tocotrienol that doesn’t contain alpha-tocopherol, and so isn’t impeded.
Researchers from the University of Missouri, Kansas City, tested annatto’s effect on cholesterol. Thirty-one men and women were given varying doses of annatto (125 mg-750 mg) for 30 weeks. After just 4 weeks, those receiving the optimal dose (250 mg) of annatto showed significantly lowered cholesterol levels:
- A 15% decline in total cholesterol
- A 18% decline in LDL cholesterol
- A 14% decline in triglycerides
Higher doses of annatto showed no effect on cholesterol levels. Researchers believe annatto is able to lower cholesterol by suppressing the enzyme responsible for the body’s cholesterol production. The annatto extract also reduced inflammatory cytokines and their gene expression by as much as 64%. Inflammation is the primary precursor of heart disease! The study was published in the British Journal of Medicine and Medical Research.
Natural Doesn’t Always Mean Safe
Throughout the 30 weeks of the study no adverse side effects were found, however, annatto has been shown to cause rare allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Do not supplement with annatto if you are pregnant or nursing. Annatto may increase and decrease blood sugar levels, so exercise caution if you are diabetic, or have a surgical procedure on the horizon.