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 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.
What Is 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. It's 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 is sometimes added to Earl Gray Tea although most people don't think the tea has enough to have any effect on cholesterol levels.
Bergamot And Cholesterol Research
There is some research on citrus bergamot lowering cholesterol levels. To narrow things down, let's take out the lab animal research and test tube studies and focus just on the human studies. That will be most useful since we are all people
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 (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 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 this compound may one day be used in “male performance” and “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.
2016 saw another study published. This investigation was titled Bergamot Reduces Plasma Lipids, Atherogenic Small Dense LDL, and Subclinical Atherosclerosis in Subjects with Moderate Hypercholesterolemia: A 6 Months Prospective Study.
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 (in other words, it contained more than bergamot).
After 6 months, the 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 do to chance but a real effect.
One problem with this study was that it did not have a placebo group.Here is Bergavit on Amazon
In a 2017, researchers gave 500 mg of bergamot to 28 people (24 completed the study) who were taking anti-psychotic medications. They did this for 60 days. These researchers found no change in cholesterol or LDL levels.
This study has some problems. For example:
- This was an open label study. So the subjects and researchers knew who was getting bergamot (not a big deal because they found it didn't work, but its still a weakness in my opinion).
- Researchers used 500 mg which is the low end of other studies find might work.
- There didn't appear to be a placebo group.
- The people in the study were using anti-psychotic medications. How do we know this didn't effect outcomes?
These same researchers published a very similar study that same year titled Metabolic outcomes of bergamot polyphenolic fraction administration in patients treated with second-generation antipsychotics: a pilot study.
This investigation involved 15 people who were taking anti-psychoit drugs. In this investigation, the people were given 1000 mg of bergamot daily for 30 days.
Results shows 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.
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 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 the compound increases the excretion of cholesterol in the feces. This appears to be another way it helps lower cholesterol.
Bergamot And CoQ10?
Bergamot appears to work by knocking out an enzyme (HMG-CoA reductase) that helps make cholesterol. This is similar to how cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins) work too.
Because CoQ10 production is also knocked out by statin drugs, some experts recommend taking CoQ10 along with statins. So, if Bergamot works like statins, do people need to take CoQ10 too?
More research is needed in this area. Some supplements may contain CoQ10 for just this reason.
Does It Contain Synephrine?
It's possible that when some people reading this heard that citrus Bergamot came from an orange, they may have thought of bitter orange, also called citrius aurantium. Both of these words refers to stimulant ingredient (synephrine) found in some weight loss supplements. To be clear, it is not citrius 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 we are talking about here. The 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 the oil, see 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.
Companies sometimes 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 it's 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
Bergamot appears to be safe in healthy people. In the human studies to date, 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. While 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) 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. 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.
- Stop taking the supplement at least 2 weeks before surgery.
- 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.
Longer lasting clinical studies need be done to better determine side effects.
Quick Reference Summary
Because research can be complicated, here is a quick run down 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?
Some of the research I saw looked very interesting. 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 citrus bergamot supplement, first get a full blood test to see what your cholesterol, LDL, triglycerides, etc. are now. Tell your doctor you want to try bergamot and see what she/he thinks. Then, try a supplement that has 500-1000 mg of bergamot. Try it for a month. After a month, get another blood test. If citrus bergemot is going to work, the research says you should see the change in a month.
Here are bergamot supplements on Amazon if you want to see what others are saying about it.