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Study: Plant Sterols Underused for Cholesterol Support

April 10th, 2009

Lentils and beans are good sources of cholesterol-lowering plant sterols.

Lentils and beans are good sources of cholesterol-lowering plant sterols.

Among nutrients used for cholesterol support fiber, Co Q-10, niacin, and red yeast rice get most of the attention.  But plant sterols are not only effective, they’re extremely affordable, safe…and isn’t that what everyone starts out looking for in the first place? A recent study agrees, calling sterols “an important but underused dietary component in the treatment of elevated blood cholesterol”.

“Sterols” are organic compounds, specific types of which occur in animals, plants and fungi. Sterols help form and maintain cell membranes, and act as precursors to other compounds like hormones.

Plant sterols have been used as supplements for a long time, both as actual plant sterol supplements and because plant sterols are the chief active ingredients in some medicinal herbs such as saw palmetto.  Plant sterols in various combinations have been formulated into successful prostate and immune health formulas, but they remain an overlooked option for cholesterol.

Now about cholesterol.  Cholesterol is an animal sterol found only in animal-source foods, and never plants. To the cholesterol in your food, your own body contributes some more in the form of bile acids that you produce you absorb fats.  Most digestion and absorption takes place in the small intestine. Since cholesterol is an important nutrient that would be scarce in primitive diets, it’s conserved in humans; most cholesterol is re-absorbed farther down the digestive tract after digestion is completed, minimizing the loss to normal elimination.

Cholesterol is reabsorbed one molecule-at-a-time as each molecule binds lock-and-key style to a specific transporter site on the inner surface of the intestines.

Since plant and animal sterols share a basic chemical structure, plant sterols also bind to those en transporter sites, crowding out and even blocking cholesterol from being absorbed (or re-absorbed).

This is believed to be the mechanism by which plant sterols lower LDL and total cholesterol.

Supplemental sterols are very safe in terms of side-effects, but should only be used by those with high cholesterol, since the possibility exists that plant sterols can reduce the absorption of certain fat soluble nutrients.  NOW Foods Beta-Sitosterol Plant Sterols is our best selling plant sterol supplement.

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