Phytosterols – healing properties and sources of occurrence

Phytosterols are plant substances with very similar structure to human cholesterol.Regularly taken with diet help to effectively lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and heart attack, and can even protect against certain cancers.Sources of phytosterols are primarily vegetable oils and fortified products, such as margarines, yoghurts, cheese and chocolate.

The name phytosterol is simply associated with cholesterol.Actually, because phytosterols are compounds with very similar structure and functions to cholesterol, but only occurring in the vegetable world.Animal and human organisms produce cholesterol, while phytosterols can only be supplied with diet.

They are a building block of cell membrane membranes and are responsible for hardening their structure.The group of phytosterols includes sterols that have an unsaturated bond in the molecule, as well as stanols – with all saturated bonds.Sterols are more often found in plants.

Stanols represent only 10% of the total phytosterols.Among this group of compounds, over 40 different substances have been identified, but the most common are β-sitosterol, campesterol and stigmasterol.Β-sitosterol alone accounts for nearly half of all phytosterols in the human diet.


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Phytosterols and cholesterol

Phytosterols are known as a component of the diet, which, when consumed in the right amounts, causes a significant reduction in the level of total cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol.How does it happend?Phytosterols are characterized by a very similar structure to cholesterol.

Thanks to this, they can take its place in micelles, or particles, thanks to which cholesterol is absorbed in the intestines into the bloodstream.Therefore, phytosterols inhibit the absorption of cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract and cause its increased excretion from the body.At the same time they are absorbed to the blood circulation to a very small extent.

Consumption of about 1.5 g of phytosterols a day reduces cholesterol absorption by 30-40%, while 2.2 g per day – by 60%.

Although reduced absorption of cholesterol with food causes greater production of cholesterol in the liver, the concentration of this compound in the blood serum and so significantly decreases.This beneficial effect on cholesterol levels has been known since the 1950s.

Then, however, much higher doses of phytosterols were used, as even 18g per day.Currently, at the lowest therapeutic dose is considered 1 g per day.The essential influence of phytosterols on cholesterol in the human body is well known and studied.

Research on the effects of phytosterols consumed with the diet on the lipid profile of the blood usually lasts about 3 weeks.Using a dose of 1 to 3 g of phytosterols per day, a decrease in total cholesterol is obtained by 5-11%, and LDL by up to 16%.

Based on many studies, it has been found that taking more than 3 g of phytosterols per day does not affect the further decrease in the concentration of lipoproteins and this amount is considered as borderline.It is still much more than the average we provide with a diet.

On average, we eat 20-50 mg stanol and 100-350 mg daily sterols.This means that to lower the cholesterol level by diet, we need to consume products enriched with phytosterols.

In a study by Gylling and colleagues, it was shown that consumption of margarine providing 3 g of phytosterols reduced total cholesterol by 11% and LDL by 15%.Polagruto showed that enriched chocolate contributed to a drop in cholesterol by 4.7%, and LDL by 6%.Similar beneficial results were obtained giving testostermen enriched with orange juice, yellow cheese and soy milk.

Higher decreases in lipoproteins are obtained by taking phytosterols in a diet in a single dose a day, than spread over several meals.

People with elevated cholesterol levels are much more likely to develop atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases.The main goal of treatment is to lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and improve the HDL / LDL ratio.

Due to their hypocholesterolemic effects, phytosterols are a compulsory component of a healthy heart diet.They also help to inhibit platelet aggregation and reduce the formation of atherosclerotic plaque.

Plant sterols reduce the release of prostaglandins, a proinflammatory factor, slow down the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and increase the viability of endothelial cells in blood vessels.All this has a positive effect on the functioning of the cardiovascular system.

A 10% reduction in LDL reduces the risk of coronary heart disease by 20%.By combining the right diet rich in fiber, healthy fats, vegetables and fruits with phytosterols, you can achieve a reduction in LDL by up to 24%.


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Phytosterols and cancers

Phytosterols have anticancer activity.They affect many processes that can lead to the development of cancer.It was also observed that they inhibit the formation of free radicals, they have a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect.

A very important feature of cancer cells is resistance to signals programming cell death.Phytosterols by means of complex processes inhibit tumor proliferation (cell proliferation) and cause apoptosis, i.e. cell death.

They also inhibit the formation of metastases.It has been shown, among others, that β-sitosterol stops the growth and metastasis of breast cancer cells, inhibits the development of colon cancer and prostate cancer.A three-year study in Uruguay has shown that plant sterols reduce the risk of stomach cancer.

Several epidemiological studies have examined the relationship between dietary phytosterol consumption and the risk of cancer.It was noted that the consumption of phytosterols in people with a diagnosis of breast cancer, lung cancer or stomach cancer was clearly lower than in the control group of healthy people.

Since the consumption of phytosterols is associated with a higher proportion of plant products in the diet, probably protective anti-cancer properties can not be attributed to phytosterols alone, but also to other plant compounds.


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Phytosterols – other properties

  • Phytosterols can limit inflammation and reduce too much immune response, which can be used in the treatment of autoimmune diseases, e.g. rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis.
  • Some phytosterols stimulate insulin secretion.They can be helpful in the prevention of type II diabetes.
  • Eating phytosterols reduces prostate hypertrophy, alleviates urinary problems, increases the flow through the urethra and reduces the volume of urine remaining in the bladder after excretion.

Phytosterols – sources of occurrence

Phytosterols are found in all plant cells, and their richest sources are vegetable oils.Also rich in these ingredients are sesame seeds, wheat germ, walnuts, earth and hazelnuts, almonds, legume seeds and cereal products.For the production of sterols, tall oil is used, which is obtained from pine subcortals.


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