Carob (Ceratonia siliqua) is a natural substance sometimes used in treatment of high cholesterol. The fruit of an evergreen tree native to Mediterranean regions, carob is rich in fiber. When used to treat high cholesterol, carob is typically consumed in pulp form.
A type of gum extracted from carob, carob bean gum is also used in treatment of high cholesterol. Carob bean gum is sometimes referred to as "locust bean gum." A number of food products (such as energy bars) are enriched with carob pulp or carob bean gum.
Why Do People Use Carob for High Cholesterol?
Proponents claim that carob can help treat high cholesterol by providing a source of both insoluble and soluble fiber. (Known to bind with cholesterol in the intestines, soluble fiber helps reduce your body's absorption of cholesterol and, as a result, decrease circulating cholesterol levels.) While many studies have shown that people with a high dietary intake of fiber may have healthier cholesterol levels, few studies have tested the use of carob specifically in treatment of high cholesterol.
Still, there's some evidence that carob may help fight cholesterol. In a 2010 study from Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, for instance, researchers found that consumption of carob fiber led to a significant decrease in total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. The study involved 88 people with high cholesterol, each of whom consumed either carob fiber or a placebo twice a day for four weeks. The study's authors note that polyphenols (a type of antioxidant) found in carob may be partly responsible for carob fiber's cholesterol-lowering effects.
In addition, a 2003 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition indicates that adding carob pulp to your diet may help lower cholesterol levels. Each day during the study, 58 people with high cholesterol consumed two servings of bread and one fruit bar made either with or without carob pulp. After six weeks, participants given carob pulp showed a significantly greater decrease in LDL cholesterol levels (compared to study members who did not consume carob pulp).
A pilot study published in Advances in Therapy in 2001 also indicates that dietary intake of carob may help lower cholesterol. After six weeks of consuming 15 grams of carob per day in three different products (a breakfast cereal, a fruit muesli bar, and powdered drink), study members averaged a 7.8% decrease in total cholesterol and a 12.2% decrease in LDL cholesterol. The study included 47 people with moderately elevated cholesterol levels.
Although carob is generally considered safe when consumed in the amounts normally found in food, little is known about the safety of long-term consumption of carob-enriched products.
When Should You Use Carob to Treat High Cholesterol?
Although carob-enriched products may be of some benefit in controlling cholesterol levels, there's not enough scientific evidence to support their use as a treatment for high cholesterol. What's more, self-treating high cholesterol with carob and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious health consequences (including increased risk for cardiovascular disease).
If you're considering the use of carob in treatment of high cholesterol, make sure to consult your primary care provider.
Ruiz-Roso B, Quintela JC, de la Fuente E, Haya J, Pérez-Olleros L. "Insoluble carob fiber rich in polyphenols lowers total and LDL cholesterol in hypercholesterolemic sujects." Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2010 Mar;65(1):50-6.
Zunft HJ, Lüder W, Harde A, Haber B, Graubaum HJ, Gruenwald J. "Carob pulp preparation for treatment of hypercholesterolemia." Adv Ther. 2001 Sep-Oct;18(5):230-6.
Zunft HJ, Lüder W, Harde A, Haber B, Graubaum HJ, Koebnick C, Grünwald J. "Carob pulp preparation rich in insoluble fibre lowers total and LDL cholesterol in hypercholesterolemic patients." Eur J Nutr. 2003 Oct;42(5):235-42.