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Question: What is lunasin and does it really reduce cholesterol?
Answer: Lunasin is a protein peptide first identified in soybean, and later confirmed to be present in barley, triticale and oats. Lunasin is sold as a branded ingredient (LunaRich and Lunasin XP, both by Soy Labs LLC) in capsules and soy protein drinks and is promoted for lowering cholesterol. (Other proposed benefits include reducing inflammation, cancer prevention and overall immune health).
There is good evidence that soy, in general, can help lower cholesterol: studies show an average daily dose of 47 g daily can reduce LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, by about 13% (Anderson, NEJM 1995, Reynolds, Am J Cardio 2006). The FDA allows companies to make the claim that "25 grams of soy protein daily, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease." [For more information about supplements used to lower choletesterol levels (such as sterols, stanols, and policosanol), see ConsumerLab.com’s Review of Cholesterol-Lowering Supplements. Also see the Review of Red Yeast Rice Supplements. For more informration about soy, see the Soy article in the encyclopedia.]
For comparison, the makers of LunaRich XP state that one 125 mg capsule contains the same amount of lunasin as is found in 25 grams of soy protein. They also point to lunasin as "the active component in soy protein responsible for reducing LDL cholesterol." This is based on research conducted by Soy Labs which found that lunasin reduces the expression of the gene that produces a key enzyme (HMG-CoA Reductase) needed for the liver's production of cholesterol. (Prescription statin drugs act to block this same enzyme after it has been produced by the gene, rather than slowing down the gene's production.) Lunasin was also found to increase the number of receptors available in liver cells to remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream (Galvez, Circulation 2012).
While promising, its important to note that this study, like most of the studies on lunasin, was not conducted in humans, but in cell lines (in vitro) and in animals. The only clinical study to date involved just five men, and was designed to determine the bioavailability of lunasin from soy protein consumption (Gonzalez, FASEB J 2009). More clinical studies are needed to confirm lunasin’s ability to lower cholesterol in humans.
Although there are no reported side-effects from taking lunasin, people with an allergy to soy should not take this supplement. Be aware that soy drink powders and mixes made with lunasin (Reliv NOW with LunaRich, ProVantage Sports Performance Powder, Carefast Soy Protein Drink Mix with Lunasin XP) may also contain soy isoflavones, which are not recommended for pregnant and nursing women, and women with estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer.
The bottom line: There is good evidence that soy is generally safe to take and can help to lower cholesterol. Preliminary research on lunasin, a component of soy, shows that it may play important roles in this cholesterol-lowering effect: slowing the production of a cholesterol-producing enzyme in the body and helping to clear LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream. While more clinical studies are needed to confirm lunasin's ability to lower cholesterol in humans, this supplement may be worth a try if you are looking for natural, low-risk way to reduce cholesterol. Women who are pregnant, nursing, or who have been diagnosed with estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer should not take lunasin.