Natural phytosterols in corn oil may help cholesterol levels.




Am J Clin Nut

Related Monographs

Consumer Data: Hyperlipidemia
Professional Data: 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. 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.

High blood cholesterol gets the most attention because of the link between cholesterol and heart disease. But cholesterol is not an enemy. Essential for life, cholesterol plays many important roles. The body uses cholesterol as the building material for hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. Bile salts, which break the fat we eat into small particles that can be digested, are composed largely of cholesterol. Cholesterol is our friend, something the body requires, in the right places and amounts.

Abnormally high levels of cholesterol in the blood can lead to coronary heart disease and other serious conditions, due to build-up of cholesterol-filled plaque in the arteries. But cholesterol by itself is not the problem. Research has shown that abnormalities in the way cholesterol is transported in the blood are the culprits in setting the stage for arteries to become damaged and clogged with plaque.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition stated that phytosterols in large amounts can help to control or even reduce cholesterol, but little is know about the effects of small doses. Since corn oil is a rich source of phytosterols, the researchers wanted to explore the effects of removing the phytosterols from the oil to determine if this process could possibly increase cholesterol absorption. Healthy participants received sterol free breakfasts twice in a 2-week period. In addition, this breakfast also contained 35 mg cholesterol. The results showed that cholesterol absorption was an average of 38% higher with the sterol-free breakfast when compared to breakfast containing normal corn oil. When the phytosterols were re-added, the cholesterol absorption dropped by 12%. The researchers concluded that, "Phytosterols comprising < 1% of commercial corn oil substantially reduced cholesterol absorption and may account for part of the cholesterol-lowering activity of corn oil previously attributed solely to unsaturated fatty acids."1


1. Ostlund RE, et al. Phytosterols that are naturally present in commercial corn oil significantly reduce cholesterol absorption in humans. Am J Clin Nut. Jun 2002;75(6):1000-04.