Are phytosterols really effective against cholesterol?

Phytosterol – what is it?

Phytosterols indicate certain lipids found in foods of plant origin. They are found in oils, cereals, fruits, fresh vegetables and oilseeds. There are several types including sitosterol, campesterol and stanols. Chemically described as early as 1922, researchers began to take an interest inaction of phytosterol against bad cholesterol. Indeed, this element has this property thanks to its chemical structure very close to that of cholesterol. An element particularly present in foods of animal origin such as eggs, organ meats, butter… Unlike cholesterol, phytosterols do not present any disadvantages for health.

How does phytosterol work against cholesterol?

In 1953, a study demonstrated the effectiveness of plant sterols for lower blood cholesterol. From this period, several other scientists focus on the peculiarities of phytosterol. These studies demonstrated the interest of sterols in lowering the bad cholesterol in the blood. Indeed, these sterols would limit the absorption of cholesterol by monopolizing its absorption sites which are found in the intestine. To achieve this, they integrated into the micelles present in the digestive cells. Micelles are considered as a kind of carriers in digestive cells.

The sterols then take the place of part of the cholesterol within these micelles. They achieve this thanks to their structure very close to cholesterol. Thanks to this process, the amount of assimilated cholesterol decreases. In addition, to be able to manufacture bile salts, essential for digestion, the liver will capture LDL-Cholesterol in the blood. This second process still goes lower the level of bad cholesterol in the blood. It should be remembered that the action of phytosterol has no impact on the good cholesterol which protects the arteries.

Discover foods enriched with phytosterols

Corn, rapeseed, sunflower and soybean oils are on the list of foods rich in plant sterols. There are also sesame seeds, cashews, corn, sorghum, wheat, almonds and peanuts. Fresh fruits and vegetables also contain phytosterols but to a lesser extent. Here is a list of foods rich in phytosterol with their contents:

  • corn oil: 136 mg in 15 ml,
  • sesame oil: 121 mg in 15 ml,
  • wheat germ oil: 77 mg in 15 ml,
  • linseed oil: 47 mg in 15 ml,
  • olive oil: 31 mg in 15 ml,
  • sesame seeds: 121 mg in 60ml,
  • pistachio seeds: 70 mg in 60 ml,
  • cashew nuts: 52 mg in 60 ml.

Effectiveness of food products fortified with phytosterols

Since the discovery of benefits of phytosterol, food industries have created products enriched with plant sterols. Today, these products can be found in all food stores. There are, for example, margarines and dairy products enriched with phytosterols. Their benefits are highlighted in their packaging to better convince consumers. Compared to similar products, these food products enriched with phytosterols cost much more. A price that seems higher compared to the moderate benefits they provide. It should be noted that a daily intake of 2 g of phytosterols contributes to the reduction of up to 10% of bad cholesterol in the blood. This decrease varies from person to person. In some people, these products show no major impact.

Phytosterol has limits?

The consumption of foods enriched with phytosterols helps reduce cardiovascular disease. But consuming it in large quantities can also pose health risks.

Excess phytosterols – the possible risks

  • Phytosterol increases the concentration of beta-carotene in the blood which can harm the health of children, pregnant and breastfeeding women,
  • Excess can cause blood cholesterol levels to drop below normal, leading to other disorders,
  • Consumption of foods rich in phytosterols cannot replace cholesterol-lowering treatment. In addition, these people should not consume products enriched with phytosterols.

Excess of phytosterol and vitamin deficiency

A daily intake of more than 3 g/day can cause vitamin A deficiencies. However, this antioxidant participates in the development of the embryo, cell growth and tissue renewal. Vitamin A also boosts the immune system and maintains visual acuity. L’excess phytosterol can also lead to vitamin E deficiency. Like vitamin A, this antioxidant plays an important role in overall health. Vitamin E fights against cellular aging, prevents cardiovascular diseases and cancer. It also strengthens the immune system. It should be remembered that food products enriched with phytosterols are not suitable for children, pregnant women and breastfeeding women.

* Presse Santé strives to transmit medical knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace medical advice.

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