Phytosterols Can Lower 'Bad' LDL Cholesterol Levels

BACKGROUND: Phytosterols are a group of plant compounds with similarities
to cholesterol in chemical structure. However, phytosterols inhibit
absorption of cholesterol in the gut, but they are not themselves absorbed
in significant amounts. Some brands of margarine have added sterols to
reduce cholesterol levels.

RESEARCH: In a review article, a leading researcher noted that it has been
known for more than 40 years that phytosterols can reduce cholesterol
levels. However, research had been limited because phytosterols have
limited solubility in both water and fat. According to the author,
esterification of sterols (i.e., esterified sterols) increases its
solubility in fatty foods, such as margarine, by ten times.

RESULTS: Clinical trials have found that regular consumption of margarine
with added sterols can reduce levels of the "bad" low-density lipoprotein
(LDL) form of cholesterol by about 10 percent, which would lead to a
significant reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease.

IMPLICATIONS: Current research indicates that phytosterols are safe when
added to the diet. According to the researcher, increasing the amount of
phytosterols consumed may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Ostlund RE Jr., "Phytosterols in human nutrition," Annual Review of
Nutrition, 2002;22:533-549.

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