An extract from the hibiscus flower could have the same heart health benefits as red wine and tea, researchers suggest.
A team from the Chung Shan Medical University in Taiwan says the flower contains antioxidants that help control cholesterol levels.
They said animal studies showed the extract could reduce cholesterol in animals, so it may help humans.
The study is published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.
Hibiscus sabdariffa L , which is grown in China, India and Taiwan is used as a traditional remedy to treat high blood pressure and liver disorders.
The researchers found it contains antioxidants that are known to reduce the dangerous build up of fats inside the arteries.
They carried out a study looking at the effects of hibiscus extract on low density lipoprotein, LDL or “bad” cholesterol in rats.
They found the hibiscus extract significantly reduced the build up of fatty deposits in arteries and blood cholesterol levels.
‘Advice stays the same’
Dr Chau-Jong Wang, who led the research, said: “Experiments have shown that compounds extracted from red wine and tea reduce cholesterol and lipid build-up in the arteries of rats.
“This is the first study to show that Hibiscus extract has the same effect.”
He said the data strongly suggest that it could be useful in the prevention and even treatment of a number of cardiovascular diseases in which cholesterol plays a major role.
Dr Charmaine Griffiths, spokesperson at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Previous research has suggested that a variety of naturally occurring flavonoids – found in fruit, red wine and tea – have potent antioxidant properties that reduce oxidation of the harmful type of cholesterol, LDL.
“This research study claims that hibiscus flowers are particularly efficient at reducing cholesterol – we would be interested to see if long-term studies involving people produce similar results.”
But she added: “It is also important to stress that whatever the protective potential of hibiscus, our advice remains the same: regular physical activity and eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables and low in saturated fat are still the best ways to protect your heart health.”
(By BBC, Sept 2004)