Bacteria could prove key in the fight against cholesterol
Irish scientists believe a bacteria found in the gut holds the secret to significantly reducing cholesterol levels.
The researchers have identified the unique strain of bacteria which has already been proven to lower cholesterol levels in mice by up to 50pc.
Teagasc Food Research Centre in Moorepark, Co Cork, is looking for healthy men and women to try their new probiotic yogurt, including the bacteria, over a period of 12 weeks.
Human trials are set to begin this month on the joint project being undertaken by researchers from Teagasc and University College Cork.
The €100,000 project, funded by Enterprise Ireland, will hope to create a product that can be sold on the market in the near future.
Up to 90 people will be tested at random, not knowing whether they will be receiving a placebo or the strain known as 'Lactobacillus mucosae'.
Cardiovascular disease has become the leading cause of death and morbidity in the EU, and is on the increase in Ireland.
Dr Catherine Stanton is one of the leading researchers on the project and is a nutritionist working with Teagasc Food and Research Centre.
Dr Stanton said: "We were interested in microfibres that might be beneficial to human health.
"We did a large screen study of bacteria that ultimately led to the identification of a number of candidates and we then narrowed it down to just one strain, the lactobacillus mucosae, which are normally found in the human gut", she said.
When grown with a sugar-rich medium the new strain was found to solidify, creating a binding tool which was easy to mix with dairy products.
The researchers set about introducing the strain to probiotic yoghurt and cheeses, first feeding them to mice.
"Through the animal studies we now know that it works," Dr Stanton said. "We used a number of different food products in the animal studies to see if it would lower cholesterol.
"These animals had a high in fat, high cholesterol diet, but when we gave them the food products combined with the strain, their cholesterol was significantly reduced."
Successful candidates for the human trials will be men and women aged 25 to 65, who have mild cholesterol problems but are not on any medication.
With several interested parties wanting to bring the product to market, the researchers hope to have the tests yield positive results later this year.