Plant Sterols used in high cholesterol.




Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care

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There are many chemical constituents (termed phytochemicals) found in plant medicines that have beneficial pharmacological effects in humans. Some bioactive phytochemicals include tannins, resins, polysaccharides, saponins, glycosides, and volatile oils among others. Recent literature has reported that two of these phytochemicals, sterols and sterolins (plant "fats"), occur naturally in fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts and, have clinically beneficial effects in human subjects in many conditions.

Sterol is found in all plant-based foods, and sterolin is a glucoside moiety joined to the sterol chemical structure. Both sterols and sterolins were identified as early as 1922. In the natural state, these plant "fats" are bound to the fibers of the plant, making the sterols and sterolins difficult to be absorbed during the normal transit of digested food through our gut. Seeds are the richest source of the sterols and sterolins, but are usually removed during processing by the food industry.

Plant sterols may be beneficial in disorders such as hyperlipidemia. If your health professional says you have hyperlipidemia, this simply means the amount of fat in your blood is higher than it should be. ("Hyper" means high; "lipid" is another word for fat or fat-like substance; "emia" refers to the blood.) Although high cholesterol is the most famous form of hyperlipidemia, blood fats include more than just cholesterol. Triglycerides, phospholipids, and other fatty substances circulate continuously through the bloodstream on their way to and from organs and tissues.

A recent study stated that plant sterols have been recommended by the National Cholesterol Education Panel for a complementary approach to conventional treatment in cholesterol. They stated that plant sterols might help in reducing low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels when maintaining a health diet and weight. They acknowledged that 1.6 grams of plant sterol esters daily could reduce LDL cholesterol by about 10% with very few side effects reported. The NCEP recommends this as a non-pharmacological approach to high cholesterol.1


1. Lichtenstein AH. Plant sterols and blood lipid levels. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2002 Mar;5(2):147-52.