As I continue my series on how to fight high cholesterol, I arrive at a group of supplements with huge potential. Plant sterols and stanols (or phytosterols) are chemicals from a plant source similar in structure and function as cholesterol. And they can drop cholesterol with the best of them. There are some golden tips in here, so read carefully.
Foods with the highest concentrations include olive oil, nuts, and vegetables. In addition, legumes, whole grains, and seeds are good dietary sources of phytosterols. Phytosterol supplements are marketed as “beta-sitosterol.” Phytosterols block the absorption of cholesterol by 30% to 60% depending on the dose consumed. We generally get in the range of 150 to 450 mg a day — in sharp contrast to early human intake of over 1,000 mg a day.
The effect of phytosterols on high cholesterol has been studied in over 40 clinical trials. I’ll summarize the results here.
Adding two grams of phytosterols a day into various foods (yogurt, low-fat milk, olive oil, orange juice, mayonnaise, margarine) in adults with normal or high cholesterol values and in type 2 diabetics was found to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol by 11% (whereas placebo was 2.3%).
Adding 1.6 to three grams of phytosterols a day was found to lower LDL cholesterol up to 15% in the first month.
In a meta-analysis of 50 clinical studies, eating two grams a day of either plant sterols or stanols led to a drop in LDL cholesterol of 10%. Note: using doses higher than two grams a day did not improve the cholesterol-lowering effects of these phytosterols.
In a meta-analysis of 59 randomized controlled clinical studies, the cholesterol-lowering effects of plant sterols/stanols were dependent on the individuals’ baseline LDL values, the type of phytosterol-enriched food consumed, and the frequency and timing of the intake, as follows:
— LDL cholesterol-lowering effect was greater in those who had higher levels before the study.
— The effect was greater if phytosterols were added to milk, yogurt, salad dressing, mayonnaise, or fat spreads than if they were added to chocolate, croissants, muffins, orange juice, non-fat beverages, and cereal bars.
— If plant sterols were taken as a single morning dose, they did not lower LDL cholesterol.
Phytosterols could help other known cholesterol-lowering foods or drugs, as shown below:
— Substituting unsaturated fats for saturated fats led to a nine-percent drop in LDL cholesterol. But the addition of 1.7 grams a day of phytosterols to the same diet led to a 24% reduction in LDL cholesterol.
— A diet high in phytosterols, soy protein, almonds, and fibers reduced LDL cholesterol by 30%; results comparable to the use of statin drugs.
— In a meta-analysis of eight clinical studies that combined the use of phytosterols with statin therapy, this combination significantly lowered LDL cholesterol by seven to 20% without any effect on HDL (good) cholesterol or triglycerides.
— Margarine containing phytosterols, when added to two cholesterol-lowering drugs, led to a 67% reduction in LDL cholesterol.
— Margarine containing a plant sterol, when added to a drug, led to a nine-percent drop in LDL cholesterol.
RECOMMENDED: More benefits of margarine outlined in the article, Get Your Share of Healthy Fats with These Foods.
— When sitostanol (three grams a day) was added to bezafibrate, it caused a five-percent drop in LDL cholesterol.
— The “Portfolio Diet” contains four LDL cholesterol-lowering substances: soluble fiber; soy; plant sterols; and almonds. This diet was found to reduce LDL cholesterol by 29% to 35% comparable to another diet with a cholesterol-lowering drug.