A new study shows that eating a meal made with olestra, a fat replacer, can provide significant health benefits to patients with early signs of heart disease. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Nebraska and Alegent Health Bergan Mercy Medical Center in Omaha, demonstrated that eating a low-fat breakfast made with olestra improved study participants’ blood flow to the heart compared to participants who ate a high-fat meal. The results of this study are to be presented October 17th at the Institute for Clinical PET’s (Positron Emission Tomography) Twelfth Annual International Conference held in Washington, DC.

This randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study used Rubidium PET technology to evaluate changes in blood flow to the heart within hours after consuming a banana muffin breakfast. PET, the gold standard of care for cardiac diagnosis, is a non-invasive, diagnostic imaging technique for measuring the metabolic activity of cells in the human body. This study among 19 patients is the first to directly measure perfusion — blood flow to the heart — after eating potentially heart healthy foods.

Patients with early signs of heart disease ate a higher fat meal (46.7 grams triglycerides) or a breakfast made with fat replaced by olestra (2.7 grams triglycerides, 44 grams olestra). Meals were matched for carbohydrate, protein and cholesterol content. Researchers measured drastic improvements in blood flow to the heart after subjects ate the olestra meal.

“Patients with early signs of heart disease who consumed the olestra meal realized an impressive 11-12 percent increase in perfusion,” said principal investigator Barbara Cook, M.D. “These results highlight the benefits of eating a healthy, low-fat diet and the continued health benefits and options available to patients who use olestra as a fat substitute.” Researchers also saw no change in taste with the olestra meal.

This study measured improvement in subjects who had early signs of heart disease called coronary artery endothelial dysfunction. As many as 50 percent of U.S. adults, or about 100 million people, are estimated to have some form of this condition. Clinical events such as unstable angina and acute coronary syndromes are common consequences of this condition.

“This evidence clearly indicates the benefits of a low-fat meal on blood flow to the heart, and is significant because coronary artery endothelial dysfunction, a precursor to much more serious heart conditions, can be reversible,” said investigator and associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and director of nuclear medicine at Alegent Health Bergan Mercy Medical Center, Samuel Mehr, M.D.

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In addition to measuring blood flow to the heart, the researchers determined changes in blood triglycerides. “We also measured a rapid increase in blood triglycerides in patients after they ate a high-fat meal, but almost no increase after eating the meal made with olestra,” Dr. Cook said. “Improved heart flow and an improved cholesterol profile indicate a positive heart healthy response to the meal made with olestra.”

This study follows closely on a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine earlier this month. That study showed that olestra consumption was associated with decreased total cholesterol, fat, and saturated fat consumption. People eating at least two to three servings of olestra snacks every week for a year had a total serum cholesterol which was lower by 10 percent and total fat consumption which was lower by eight percent.

Both studies were sponsored by Procter & Gamble’s Nutrition Science Institute.