Can a citrus fruit naturally lower cholesterol levels? While it’s true that eating more fruits and vegetables is generally associated with reduced cholesterol, what about a specific type of fruit? Bergamot -also called citrus bergamot – is a type of orange that has been getting attention that it might do just that. And there is some research on this fruit too. As such, I expect to see Bergamot showing up in supplements. So, in this review, let’s look at the research on Bergamot as it pertains to lowering cholesterol and try to help you decide if it’s right for you.
What is Bergamot?
Bergamot is a type of orange that grows in Italy, although because of it’s growing popularity, I’m sure its harvested elsewhere too. It’s scientific name is Citrus bergamia and its also referred to as Citrus bergamia Risso.
Bergamot is sometimes added to Earl Gray Tea although most people don’t think the tea has enough to have any effect on cholesterol levels.
For this review, I tried to locate human research on earl gray tea and cholesterol levels (to see if it did or didn’t help) but was not able to find any studies.
Bergamot and Cholesterol Research
There is some research on citrus bergamot improving cholesterol problems. To narrow things down, here are the following human studies I was able to locate.
Take notice of the amount used in the studies. This may help you find a bergamot supplement that might be best for you.
A 2011 study titled Hypolipemic and hypoglycaemic activity of bergamot polyphenols: from animal models to human studies involved both people and lab rats. It involved 237 people who were followed for 30 days. The people were divided 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
After the study researchers noted that 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.
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, 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 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 that bergamot improved vasodilation of the blood vessels. In other words, the blood vessels more easily opened up to allow for better blood flow. Because of this finding, I predict bergamot may one day be used in “male performance” supplements as well as “pre workout” supplements.”
In a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Cardiology that lasted 30 days, 1000 mg of bergamot, given to people with high cholesterol levels, was shown to significantly reduce total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides while, at the same time, raising HDL (good cholesterol).
Specifically, 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.
How Does Bergamot Work?
It appears that citrus bergamot contains compounds called flavonoids (a class of phyto-nutrient) that can reduce an enzyme involved in making cholesterol, called HMG-CoA reductase. Interestingly, this is also how some cholesterol lowering medications work.
However, research so far, does not show that bergamot causes any of the side effects like muscle aches and rhabdomyolysis (“rhabdo”) that some people report when they take statin medications.
Bergamot contains many different compounds that may work in different ways. As such, reduction in the HMG-CoA reducatase enzyme may only be part of how it works.
For example, lab animal research notes that bergamot increases the excretion of cholesterol in the feces. This appears to be another way bergamot helps lower cholesterol.
What About Bergamot Oil?
Bergamot oil is different than the citrus burgamot we are talking about here. Bergamot oil refers to essential oils that are either inhaled or placed on the skin.
Citrus bergamot usually refers to supplements that are taken orally. For more on bergamot oil I’ll refer you to the side effects section of WebMd.
Which Supplement Is Best?
There are many different bergamot supplements out there. Some products combine bergamot with other ingredients like vitamin C, resveratrol, red yeast rice or CoQ10.
My guess is that companies add other ingredients to their supplements in the hopes of getting better results or trying to combine a lesser known product (in this case, bergamot) to a more well known or accepted supplement (like CoQ10) to enhance sales.
Either way, if citrus bergamot is going to work, I don’t believe these other ingredients are needed and I would not spend more money on bergamot supplements that contained anything else other than just citrus bergamot.
The research I was able to locate above, used ONLY bergamot and nothing else. If the research is to be believed, that is all that should be needed.
Bergamot Side Effects
In the human studies I saw, there were no serious side effects. The most common side effect I saw was mild heart burn. That said, here are some general things to consider for those who are thinking of trying this supplement. If you feel any of this applies to you, speak to your doctor and/or pharmacist.
Speak to your doctor /pharmacist if you take ANY medications. I can’t stress this enough. 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) that helps us break down many different medications. The bergamot orange also has this compound.
Disrupting this enzyme may lead to some drugs being broken down to fast and others not fast enough. Either instance might become a problem. When in doubt, speak to your doctor/pharmacist. This is the smartest thing you can do if you are thinking about trying bergamot supplements.
See your doctor first if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Stop taking bergamot supplements at least 2 weeks before surgery.
If bergamot reduces HMG CoA reductase enzyme, then it might also reduce CoQ10 levels. I’m not aware of any human evidence of this. Speak to your doctor/pharmacist if this is a concern of yours.
Bergamot might reduce blood sugar levels. This could be an issue for diabetics and those with hypoglycemia.
If you experience any odd side effects while taking the supplement, stop taking it and speak to your doctor/pharmacist.
The studies I saw only lasted about a month. As such, I believe longer lasting clinical studies need be done to better figure out its side effects.
Does Bergamot Work?
The research on bergamot that I saw looked impressive. That said, because there are many bergamot supplements out there, it’s hard to know which is the best. Because of that, here’s what I would do if I were going to try this.
Before you start taking a bergamot supplement, get a full blood test first to see what your cholesterol, LDL, triglycerides, etc. are now. Tell your doctor you want to try a bergamot supplement and see what she/he thinks.
Then try a supplement that has 500-1000 mg of bergamot. Try it for a month. I feel the only ingredient in the supplement should be citrus bergamot and nothing else. After a month, get another blood test. If citrus bergemot supplements are going to work, the research says you should see the difference in a month.
Here are bergamot supplements on Amazon if you want to see what others are saying about it.