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Lowering Cholesterol

First it was oatmeal and oat bran soluble fiber that were proven to reduce cholesterol.

Now there's another player on that block: margarines containing plant stanol or sterol esthers.

The Food and Drug Administration says two products, Benecol and Take Control, can now change their labels from "helps promote healthy cholesterol levels" to "may help prevent heart disease."

But as News 2's Paul Moniz reports, some specialists worry that sends out the wrong message to consumers.

Studies show Benecol can lower LDL, or "bad cholesterol," an average of 10 to 14 percent. Take Control lowers it by 7 to 10 percent.

It sounds promising but there are caveats.

First, you have to eat a lot of the margarine to get the advertised benefit.

According to the product, one serving is a full tablespoon. You have to eat at least two servings a day.

News 2 found it takes a while to spread around and that leaves some skeptical about complying with the regimen.

Joan O'Rouke, who has borderline high cholesterol, is concerned she won't be able to fit eating that much margarine into her schedule.

"A lot of people eat on the run," she says. "It's as simple as that."

Dr. Daniel Fisher, a cardiologist at NYU Medical Center, points out that cholesterol lowering drugs called statins are much more effective in lowering cholesterol.

"The one danger is that they think a margarine substitute can lower their cholesterol and they might not need to see a doctor," he says.

Then there's the fat content. With Benecol, you take in at least 18 fat grams a day and 160 calories. Even Take Control Lite adds 9g of fat and 80 calories and Benecol's Lite product is slightly more.

But the real zinger is cost.

Take Control runs 29 cents a serving or $18 a month,

Benecol is even more at 41 cents a serving, which is close to $25 a month.

Regular margarine costs just 6 cents a serving or $4 a month.

"It's probably not worth that kind of money, if someone is on a prescription drug plan and their medication is covered," Dr. Fisher says. "We can get a more significant reduction in cholesterol with a once a day pill."

Those pills can reduce bad cholesterol by 20 to 50 percent but they can have side effects.

The margarines appear to be well-tolerated and they may lower cholesterol a small amount but they are expensive and insurance won't pay them.

The makers of Benecol and Take Control defended their prices to News 2, saying the ingredients are expensive to manufacture.

But they also admit they've spent a lot on marketing.

MacNeil Consumer Healthcare, the maker of Benecol, says its considering lowering the price but hasn't decided how much.

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