Can a citrus fruit naturally lower cholesterol levels? While it's true that eating more fruits and vegetables is generally associated with reduced cholesterol and better health, what about a specific type of fruit? Bergamot -also called citrus bergamot – is a type of orange that has been getting the attention that it might reduce cholesterol and be heart healthy. And there is some human research on this fruit too. So, in this review, let's look at the human research on Bergamot lowering cholesterol and try to help you decide if it's right for you.
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What Is Citrus Bergamot?
Bergamot is a type of orange that grows in Italy, although because of it's growing popularity, I'm sure it'll be eventually harvested elsewhere too. Its scientific name is Citrus bergamia and it's also referred to as Citrus bergamia Risso.
Here in the US, its usually just called “Bergamot.”
Bergamot And Cholesterol Research
Research suggests citrus bergamot can reduce cholesterol levels. To narrow things down, let's take out the lab animal research and test-tube studies and focus just on human studies. This will be the most useful since we are all people.
In 2011, researchers in Italy published a study that involved both 237 people as well as rats. The people were followed for 30 days and divided into into 3 groups:
- Group A received 500 mg of bergamot per day before meals.
- Group B received 1000 mg of bergamot per day before meals.
- Group C received a placebo before meals.
Results: researchers noted bergamot caused a “strong reduction” in total cholesterol and LDL (bad cholesterol) and a significant increase in HDL (good cholesterol). A significant reduction in triglycerides was also seen. No significant changes were seen in those getting the placebo (that's good).
A “strong reduction” may not necessarily be a significant reduction. I thought some of the words used in this study were vague. Since this was an Italian study, might this could be due to language differences between cultures? I recommend that doctors read the study for themselves.
There was also a 4th group who had to stop taking their statin medications (cholesterol-lowering drugs) because of muscle pain and other side effects. They were given 1500 mg of bergamot per day. This group showed saw a 25% reduction in total cholesterol and a 27.5% reduction in LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. No negative side effects were reported.
In this study, those taking 1000 mg per day responded better than those getting 500 mg per day.
This study also reported bergamot improved vasodilation of the blood vessels. In other words, the blood vessels open up more easily to allow for better blood flow. Because of this finding, I predict this compound may one day be used in “male performance” and “pre-workout” supplements.”
Bergamot Research Video
In 2013, Italian researchers followed this up with another investigation where 77 people with high cholesterol were given 1000 mg of bergamot for 30 days. Results showed significantly reduce total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides while, at the same time, raising HDL (good cholesterol).
After 1 month of use, here is what the researchers found:
- The average total cholesterol dropped from 278 to 191.
- Levels of LDL decreased from an average of 191 to 113.
- Triglyceride levels dropped from 238 to 165.
- Levels of HDL increased from 38 to 45.
- The addition of bergamot to a cholesterol-lowering drug (Crestor) was also shown to enhance the effects of the drug.
Researchers in the US and Italy published a 6 month-long investigation of bergamot. The study involved 80 men and women (average age 55) with moderately high cholesterol levels.
For 6 months, the people were given 150 mg of a supplement called Bergavit. This supplement, made by an Italian company called BioNap (BioNap.com) contains additional bioflavonoids.
After 6 months, the Bergavit supplement:
- Lowered total cholesterol
- Lowered LDL (“bad cholesterol”)
- Lowered triglycerides
- Raised HDL (“good cholesterol”)
- Reduced thickness in the carotid arteries
These results were said to be “significant” in other words, not likely due to chance, but rather a real effect. One problem with this study however was it did not have a placebo group.
Other research has found the addition of bergamot to Crestor (a cholesterol-lowering drug), allowed people to reduce their statin medication
Not All Studies Are Positive
To be fair, not all studies have show bergamot works. For example, Italian researchers gave 500 mg of bergamot to 28 people (24 completed the study) who were taking antipsychotic medications. They did this for 60 days. These researchers found no change in cholesterol or LDL levels in this group.
This study has some problems. For example:
- This was an open-label study. So the subjects and researchers knew who was getting the supplement (not a big deal because they found it didn't work, but it's still a weakness in my opinion).
- Researchers used 500 mg which is the low end of other studies finds might work.
- There didn't appear to be a placebo group.
- The people were using antipsychotic medications. How do we know this didn't affect outcomes?
These same researchers published a very similar study that same year. This study involved 15 people who were taking anti-psychosis drugs. The difference was these people were given 1000 mg of bergamot daily for 30 days.
Results show a “statistically significant reduction of body weight.” Oddly, there was no change in cholesterol, LDL, HDL, triglycerides or any other blood parameter tested. One big problem with this study was that it involved only 15 people – and again, they were taking anti-psychotic drugs.
Bergamot And Cholesterol Research Summary
Here's a quick breakdown of what research has noted:
- Reduced total cholesterol
- Reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Reduced triglycerides
- Elevated HDL (good) cholesterol
- Vasodilation of blood vessels
The amounts of citrus bergamot needed to achieve these results ranged from 500-1000 mg per day. Results were seen in as little as 30 days.
How Does Bergamot Work?
Citrus bergamot contains compounds called flavonoids (a class of phyto-nutrient) that can reduce an enzyme involved in making cholesterol, called HMG-CoA reductase. This is also how some cholesterol-lowering medications work. However, research so far does not show any of the side effects like muscle pain and rhabdomyolysis (“rhabdo”) that some people report when they take statin medications.
Bergamot contains many compounds that may work in different ways. Some of the active ingredients include:
As such, a reduction in the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme may only be part of how it works.
For example, lab animal research notes bergamot increases the excretion of cholesterol in the feces. This appears to be another way it helps lower cholesterol.
Bergamot And CoQ10?
If bergamot works by knocking out the enzyme HMG-CoA, like cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins do, does that mean it should be taken with CoQ10 supplements as is sometimes recommended for people who take statins?
Not necessarily. Research has not shown bergamot causes muscle pain as statins can. If that's the case, then CoQ10 supplements may not be needed. If anyone experienced muscle pain, leave a comment below.
Does It Contain Synephrine?
Bergamot is different than synephrine (citrus Aurantium / bitter orange), a stimulant found in some weight loss supplements. To be clear, bergamot it is not citrus Aurantium. There is no synephrine in bergamot. So, it should not increase heart rate or blood pressure like bitter orange can.
What About Bergamot Oil?
Bergamot oil is different than the citrus burgamot supplements we are talking about here. The oil refers to essential oils that are either inhaled in a diffuser or placed on the skin. Citrus bergamot usually refers to supplements that are taken orally. Inhaling the essential oils will probably not have the same cholesterol-lowering effects as supplements.
Buy Citrus Bergamot
This stuff is getting pretty popular so you should be able to find it at many places like GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, Vitamin World, Walmart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, Costco, Rite Aid, BJs and Acme to name a few. The supplement is not expensive either, which is another reason it makes an attractive option.
Which Supplement Is Best?
There are many different supplements available. Some products combine bergamot with other ingredients like vitamin C, resveratrol, red yeast rice or CoQ10. Companies sometimes add other ingredients to their supplements in the hopes of getting better results. In theory, combinations of different ingredients may work better, but it will take research to know for sure.
If it's going to work, remember the studies only used bergamot -and nothing else.
Hopefully, this will take care of everything. If it doesn't, a couple of things to take a look at include:
- Aged Garlic Extract (click to read review)
- Metamucil (click to read review)
- Apple cider vinegar (click to read review).
Bergamot vs. Cholesterol 360
Cholesterol 360 is a popular supplement for elevated cholesterol levels. Cholesterol 360 contains bergamot as well as other ingredients like vitamin C and green tea. So far no studies have compared Cholesterol 360 to bergamot alone. For more insights, see:
Bergamot Side Effects
The supplement appears safe in healthy people. In the human studies summarized above, there were no serious side effects. The most common side effect reported was mild heartburn. Here are some general things to consider for those who are thinking of trying this supplement.
If you take ANY medications, talk to your doctor/pharmacist. I can't stress this enough. While more research is needed, it's possible bergamot supplements might interfere with medications you may be taking.
This is sometimes called the grapefruit effect because grapefruit contains a compound called bergamottin that can interfere with an enzyme (called cytochrome P450 enzyme) which helps us break down medications. The bergamot orange also has this compound. So, there might be some interactions.
Disrupting this enzyme may lead to some drugs being broken down to fast and others not fast enough. Either way, this might be a problem. If you take medications, speak to your doctor/pharmacist first. This is the smartest thing you can do.
- Speak to your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Start with less than recommended for the first week to see how you react.
- Stop taking the supplement at least 2 weeks before surgery.
- Bergamot might reduce blood sugar levels. This could be an issue for diabetics or those with hypoglycemia.
- If you experience any odd side effects while taking the supplement, stop taking it and speak to your doctor/pharmacist.
Longer lasting clinical studies need to be done to better determine side effects.
Quick Reference Summary
Because research can be complicated, here is a quick rundown on what I think is good and not so good with this supplement.
|What's Good||What's Not So Good|
|Supplement has human clinical research||Some studies have problems|
|Supplement is relatively inexpensive||More drug interactions research needed|
|Seems to have few side effects|
|Should see benefits in a month|
Research for lower cholesterol, research uses 500-1000 mg per day.
Does Bergamot Work?
Citrus bergamot is interesting and given the research and few reported side effects, this might be something to try if you have high cholesterol, LDL or triglycerides. Before you start taking a bergamot supplement, first get a full blood test to see what your cholesterol, LDL, triglycerides, etc. are. Tell your doctor you want to try the supplement and see what she/he thinks. Try it for a month. Then, get another blood test. If citrus bergamot is going to work, the research says you should see the changes in a month.