For several decades it has been hypothesized that phytosterols benefits may include the lowering of cholesterol levels by preventing absorption within the body. This may have just been proven in a recent study.
Phytosterols, otherwise known as plant sterols, are contained naturally in plants. Over the last 50 years that has been growing evidence that phytosterols may help lower cholesterol in the body. This is done by tricking the body into thinking the plant sterols are cholesterol molecules. Cholesterol is also a type of sterol. The body has a hard time distinguishing between cholesterol and plant sterols so if you eat both at the same time it is likely that your body will absorb the plant sterols, thus blocking the absorption of the cholesterol.
This mechanism in which the absorption of cholesterol is blocked has been known for some time so phytosterol supplements have been attempted. Unfortunately, the effective dose of plant sterols is around 3000 mg while the supplements generally have under 400 mg in each pill. On the other hand, some margarine manufactures have begun adding sterols in “cholesterol-lowering” varieties. These generally have around 1,700 mg of phytosterols in just one tablespoon so you can easily get your daily dose in a couple tablespoons of this kind of margarine.
What is the benefit of plant sterols?
In a study conducted by the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at McGill University, it was found that volunteers that consumed oil that was high in phytosterols saw a decrease in total cholesterol of 12.5% while their LDL cholesterol levels decreased by 13.9%.
A very recent study has proven the mechanism that plant sterols use for reducing cholesterol absorption. The study, held in France, had volunteers consume meals that contained cholesterol that was enriched with deuterium so that they could track it. The meals also contained phytosterols. Blood samples and samples from the small intestines were used to how that there was less cholesterol being absorbed.
While the proof of phytosterols benefits is good news to those looking for how to reduce cholesterol through diet, this should only be one part of a heart healthy diet. There are several other foods that are known to lower cholesterol levels, besides lifestyle changes that you can do, such as quit smoking and get more exercise.