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
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 absorbed.
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
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
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.