We determine the effects of alfalfa top saponins on cholesterol and bile acid balance in eight cynomolgus macaques (Macaca fascicularis). The monkeys ate semipurified food containing cholesterol with or without added saponins. The saponins decreased cholesterolemia without changing the levels of high density lipoprotein-cholesterol; hence, they reduced the total cholesterol/high density lipoprotein-cholesterol ratio. Furthermore, they decreased intestinal absorption of cholesterol, increased fecal excretion of endogenous and exogenous neutral steroids and bile acids, and decreased the percent distribution of fecal deoxycholic and lithocholic acids. The fecal excretion of fat was also slightly increased, but steatorrhea did not occur. We saw no signs of toxicity in the monkeys after 6 or 8 wk of saponin ingestion. The data suggest that alfalfa top saponins may be of use in the treatment of patients with hypercholesterolemia, but long-term studies on possible toxicity are needed before this therapy can be recommended for humans.
M R Malinow, W E Connor, P McLaughlin, C Stafford, D S Lin, A L Livingston, G O Kohler, W P McNulty