Citrus fruit extract may lower cholesterol, scientists say

The Ache: Common cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins can have unpleasant side effects, including muscle aches and weakness.

The Claim: An extract from a bitter, fragrant citrus fruit called bergamot, commonly known as a flavoring in Earl Grey tea, can lower cholesterol with minimal side effects, some scientists say. It also boosts good cholesterol, reduces fatty deposits in the liver and lowers blood sugar, they add.

The Verdict: Bergamot has been shown to lower cholesterol in at least four human studies published or presented at scientific meetings. But much of the work is authored by a group of Italian researchers who work closely with a company that sells the extract, scientists say. Larger, independent studies in other countries are needed to confirm the results, they say.

Bergamot fruit grows on sunny slopes in Southern Italy and are rich in substances called flavonoids, which likely are the reason for its beneficial effects says Arrigo Cicero, a scientist in the atherosclerosis and metabolic disease research unit of the University of Bologna. But he adds that he feels additional human studies are needed to prove efficacy.

Flavonoids are antioxidants, or substances some scientists believe reduce chemical reactions in the body that damage cells. Earl Grey tea likely contains too little bergamot to have a therapeutic effect, scientists say, though the tea is high in another class of antioxidant called catechins.

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