Phytosterols slam into cholesterol like cellular bumper cars. Naturopaths, traditional medical doctors, nutritionists, and even government agencies have been giving a lot of love to these naturally occurring compounds found in plant membranes — and for good reason.
Phytosterols are structurally similar to cholesterol, a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all cells of the body. When they are consumed, either in food or supplements, they compete with cholesterol for absorption in the small intestine. As a result, cholesterol absorption is blocked and blood cholesterol levels are reduced, which helps prevent cardiovascular disease.
“Phytosterols are very important,” says Dr. Eric Braverman, founder of PATH Foundation NY, a nonprofit research organization. “They help prevent colon cancer and prostate cancer.”
Dr. Braverman believes phytosterols inhibit the conversion processes wherein testosterone becomes dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and estrogen. “DHT is problematic because it can throw off the healthy balance of hormones and cause illnesses like prostate cancer.”
Brandon Mentore, a strength and conditioning coach, agrees on the benefits of phytosterols. “They are very important to human diet and health. Phytosterols are, in a manner of speaking, the fats of plants. These sterol compounds have many nutritive benefits including being anti-inflammatory, providing antioxidants, improving lipid and protein metabolism, and assisting in hormonal health.”
A Closer Look
Nutritionists recognize two classes of phytosterols: sterols and stanols. Sterols are the most prevalent and can be broken down further into different types like beta sitosterol, stigmasterol, campesterol, and brassicasterol. All phytosterols in the blood and tissues are derived from diet, because humans cannot synthesize them. Cholesterol, on the other hand, comes from diet as well as the body’s ability to manufacture it. This puts phytosterols at a disadvantage, which makes boosting blood with phytosterol-rich food or supplements all that more critical.
A study that appeared in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reports that phytosterols displace cholesterol from intestinal micelles (molecular aggregate absorption points) and can reduce LDL cholesterol by 10 percent in a diet of 2 grams of phytosterols per day. This translates to reducing the risk of coronary disease by about 25 percent — a major factor why the American Heart Association gives the stamp of approval to phytosterol consumption.
So How To Get Phytosterols Into Your Diet?
Early human diets were richer in phytosterols than the modern Western diet, which averages about 400-800 mg of per day. The dose needed for lowering the blood cholesterol level significantly is about 2-3 grams. But don’t despair. There are plenty of foods and supplements that can rev up your phytosterol intake.
Dr. Braverman says the “best foods” for phytosterols are fruits (mangos, oranges, passion fruit, tangerines, olives, blueberries, avocados), nuts (especially pistachios, almonds, walnuts, macadamia, peanuts), vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, dill), legumes, dried peas, dried beets, lentils, and sunflower seeds.
“Many popular vegetable oils contain high levels of phytosterols such as olive, sesame, and canola oil,” adds Mentore. You should hit the recommended daily dosage by consuming four to five ounces of nuts and a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oils.
One advantage of supplements is there’s no guessing on dosages since these are normally included with the products. Many herbs such as saw palmetto — used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) — contain high levels of phytosterols. Another is beta-sitosterol, a popular European plant extract supplement used to treat urinary symptoms related to prostate enlargement.
But according to Braveman, phytosterols in supplement form are “not easy to absorb,” so look into beta-sitosterol combined with other phytosterols in powder form.
“One of the fatty acids contained in cannabidiols is the beta-sitosterol, which is a very good source to use,” Mentore said.
Good Alzheimer’s News And A Rare Agreement
The most dramatic and disturbing conditions of Alzheimer’s disease is the loss of social recognition; a lot of patients fail to remember even their own children. Cannabinoid has proven to be effective at reversing some of the cognitive effects associated with Alzheimer’s. Now there’s more research suggesting that phytosterols may also help to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s. One phytosterol in particular, stimagsterol, appears to inhibit the formation of the beta-amyloid protein that builds up in the brain of Alzheimer’s victims.
It doesn’t happen often, but health professionals of all disciplines praise the efficacy of phytosterols. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is aboard, endorsing phytosterol-enriched products including cocoa-flavored snack bars.
The FDA has even approved a health claim on phytosterols: “Foods containing at least 0.65 gram per serving of vegetable oil plant sterol esters, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 1.3 grams, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
So what are you waiting for? Bump cholesterol to the side and let phytosterols take the wheel on your drive to better health.
Thomas Ropp Longtime journalist Thomas Ropp is an environmental advocate and proponent of living healthier. After spending most of his life in Arizona, he relocated to a Costa Rican rainforest ten years ago and helped with reforestation projects to expand the habitat of the endangered mono titi monkey. He has dual residency in the United States and Costa Rica.
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