Did you know that plants contain a substance that is similar to cholesterol—that fatty substance produced in humans and found in
animal foods, like meat and dairy products? Oddly enough, it's the consumption of the plant cousin—plant sterols—that has been
increasingly shown to help lower harmful cholesterol levels in humans.
How Can Plant Sterols Lower Cholesterol?
It's because of their molecular similarity to cholesterol that plant sterols can interfere with cholesterol absorption: they "compete" for
the intestinal spaces where cholesterol is transferred to the bloodstream. When it's blocked in this way, cholesterol is excreted rather than
Specifically, consumption of plant sterols has been shown to lower total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol blood levels, and
consequently reduce total cholesterol in relation to high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, an important marker of cardiovascular function.
Are there Any Other Health Benefits?
In addition to its cholesterol-lowering effects, there is also emerging evidence that plant sterols may inhibit the oxidation of lipoproteins, a further benefit to overall vascular function. Erectile and prostate function in men has also been shown to be indirectly supported by the
action of plant sterols.
How Can I Include Plant Sterols in my Diet?
The National Cholesterol Education Program of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends the consumption of 2 grams of plant sterols
daily to promote healthy cholesterol levels. The Food and Drug Administration also recognizes the cardiovascular benefits of sterols and has
approved a health claim for use on food products containing sterols.
Although all plants—including fruits, vegetables, grains, spices, seeds, and nuts—contain these sterol compounds, it's only in very small
amounts. The average American diet, for instance, supplies less than 500 mg of plant sterols daily. This has led many to seek out additional
dietary sources of plant sterols.
Are Plant Sterols Safe?
Plant sterols are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) food substances due to their history of safe use without any harmful effects. A
year-long study of a plant-sterol containing food was shown to have no different adverse effects than those of the control group, and
researchers concluded that it was safe for long-term use.
The Complementary Effects of Soy
The Food and Drug Administration has also stated that diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25 grams of soy protein a day
may reduce the risk of heart disease. Because of soy's role in lowering the risk of coronary heart disease, as well as its recognized
cholesterol-lowering effects, the combination of soy and sterols would seem to have a complementary effect on markers for cardiovascular health.
Are you one of the millions of Americans who is suffering from high cholesterol? Do you want to do everything possible to keep your
heart healthy? If so, please schedule an appointment at my office. We can discuss how a well-rounded diet that includes plant sterols
can help you lower your cholesterol.