Plant Sterols and Cholesterol





Related Monographs

Consumer Data: Sterols (Sitosterol) and Sterolins (Sitosterolin) Hyperlipidemia
Professional Data: Sterols (Sitosterol) and Sterolins (Sitosterolin) Hyperlipidemia


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.

In a recent Japanese study, subjects were given a spread enriched with plant sterol-esters (PS) in addition to their regular diet. Researchers were investigating the potential cholesterol-lowering effects of this spread. With an average age of 45 years, these healthy subjects were divided into two groups; those consuming the enriched spread and those receiving a regular spread not containing PS. The authors assessed the levels of total cholesterol as well as vitamin A, vitamin E, and beta-carotene levels. The results of this study found that the total cholesterol and the LDL cholesterol (the “bad cholesterol”) levels were lowered in the PS group when compared to the control group. Although beta-carotene levels were slightly lower, vitamin A and vitamin E levels remained the same before and after administration of the PS spread. The authors concluded that plant sterols effectively lowered cholesterol independent of cholesterol levels at the start of this study.1


1. Ntanios FY, et al. A Spread Enriched with Plant Sterol-Esters Lowers Blood Cholesterol and Lipoproteins without Affecting Vitamins A and E in Normal and Hypercholesterolemic Japanese Men and Women. Nutrition. Dec 2002; 132:3650-5.