Sorghum and Cardiovascular Disease
Updated: Feb 26
February is well known as a month for love, and all things heart related. Naturally, February is also Heart Month, which reminded us to think about our heart health. According to the CDC, heart disease, and the conditions that lead to it can happen at any age. Heart disease doesn’t only affect older adults but is being diagnosed more often in younger people, too.
The rates of obesity and high blood pressure are increasing among younger people (ages 35-64), which is putting them at risk for heart disease earlier than with previous generations. The CDC also states that 50% all Americans have at least one of the top three risk factors for heart disease, which are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. (1)
Research has shown that sorghum, an ancient grain, has the potential to improve cardiovascular health. An article from Texas A&M University (Awika, Rooney, 2003) explains that sorghum is rich in numerous phytochemicals including tannins, phenolic acids, anthocyanins, phytosterols, and policosanols. The phytochemicals in sorghum have been shown to promote cardiovascular health in animals and have the potential to significantly impact human health.
The CDC reports that cardiovascular disease (CVD), also called heart disease, is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Approximately 647,000 Americans die every year from CVD, which is about one in four deaths. (2)
Awika and Rooney (2003) reviewed available research and information on the phytochemicals in sorghum and how those phytochemicals could potentially help with common nutrition-related diseases, one being cardiovascular disease. From their research, they reported that the phytosterols in “cereal brans” are thought to supply beneficial effects. And other components of whole grains, such as polyphenols and fiber, also play a part in CVD prevention. (3)
In a study by Klopfenstein et al. (1981), low-tannin sorghum grain was fed to guinea pigs at 58% of their diet, which produced a cholesterol lowering effect. This effect was greater than what was produced by wheat, rolled oats or pearl millet. In a more recent study from Cho et al. (2000), they found that “sorghum and proso millet hexane extracts inhibit rat liver microsomal 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl CoA (HMGCoA) reductase in a dose-dependent manner.” They also observed that when rats were fed whole sorghum, proso millet or buckwheat at 30% of diet, HDL cholesterol (or “good cholesterol”) levels increased, without a change in total cholesterol. (4)
Unfortunately, Awika and Rooney did not find epidemiological data on tannin sorghum consumption and its effect on CVD in humans. They infer that it could be due to low sorghum consumption in the regions where CVD is most prominent. CVD is not regarded as a major problem in regions with high human sorghum consumption since there are other diseases that are of higher concern. (5)
The abstract can be found here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S003194220400144X
(1) “Heart Disease: It Can Happen at Any Age.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Accessed 5 February 2020.
(2) “Heart Disease Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.gov/features/heartmonth. Accessed 6 February 2020.
(3-5) Awika, Joseph M., Rooney, Lloyd W., (2003). “Sorghum phytochemicals and their potential impact on human health.” Phytochemistry, vol. 65, no. 9, pp. 1199-1221, doi.org/10.1016/j.phytochem.2004.04.001.