Policosanol is one of the most promising nutritional supplements in recent history. It is a combination of long-chain fatty alcohols (no biological similarity to ethanol) that are isolated and refined from sugar cane wax (Saccharum officinarum). Octacosanol is the most important of these isolated alcohols, followed by seven other prominent high aliphatic (open-chain structure) alcohols. This unique extract was originally studied in Cuba as a cholesterol-lowering agent and is an approved treatment for high cholesterol in about two-dozen countries.
Policosanol appears to slow down cholesterol synthesis in the liver and increase liver re-absorption of low-density lipoproteins (LDL). Policosanol has also been shown to increase levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Cholesterol is a fat-related substance necessary for good health. It is a normal component of most body tissues, especially those of the brain, nervous system, liver and blood and is needed to form the sex and adrenal hormones, vitamin D and bile; a digestive secretion required for fat digestion. A high level of blood cholesterol, however, increases the likelihood of developing health problems such as heart disease. There are five types of cholesterol, but it is the HDL and LDL cholesterol that we look to in assessing the potential for disease.
HDL, referred to as the 'good' cholesterol, has the ability to clear built-up cholesterol from the arteries and help in its removal from the body. LDL, the 'bad' cholesterol, is linked to heart disease and is involved in the fatty build-up on artery walls known as atherosclerosis or \'hardening of the arteries\'. Recent research indicates that low HDL levels are a strong predictor of cardiovascular disease. One of Policosanol's important actions is to reduce the abundance of cells in the arteries by inhibiting the oxidation of LDL. Oxidized LDL is dangerous. It promotes the destruction of blood vessels by creating a chronic inflammatory response. Oxidized LDL can also provoke metalloproteinase enzymes. These enzymes promote blood vessel destruction, partly by interfering with HDL's protective effect. Healthy arteries are lined with a smooth layer of cells that permit the blood to pass with no resistance. Unhealthy arteries become overwhelmed with cells, causing the blood passage to narrow and eventually be blocked which can lead to heart attack. In recent studies, Policosanol has been compared favorably to statin drugs, which are lipid-lowering drugs that reduce cholesterol levels by inhibiting an enzyme involved in the biosynthesis of cholesterol. Statin drugs and Policosanol show similar performance with reducing LDL levels but and only
Policosanol shows better performance with increasing HDL levels. Research is showing that high levels of HDL cholesterol may be the most important factor in protecting against cholesterol-induced arterial disease. Policosanol also appears to be helpful for intermittent claudication, a disease characterized by severe occlusion of the arterial system in the lower part of the body. The arteries supplying the legs with blood may become seriously blocked in advanced stages of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). This can lead to severe, crampy pain when you walk more than a short distance, because the muscles are starved for oxygen. Although we don' know how Policosanol helps in this condition, evidence suggests that it can 'thin' the blood (or technically, impair platelet aggregation) to about the same extent as aspirin at a dose of 100 mg per day.