Phytosterols Shown Again to Reduce Absorption of Dietary Cholesterol

BACKGROUND: Naturally occurring plant compounds called phytosterols are known to lower blood levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. As a food ingredient, they are recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has also approved a food label health claim that phytosterol esters lower the risk of coronary heart disease when used in conjunction with a low-fat diet.

RESEARCH: Researchers studied 10 volunteer subjects with normal cholesterol levels to determine the effect of naturally occurring phytosterols and phytosterol esters present in wheat germ on cholesterol absorption. All of the subjects were fed three different types of wheat-germ containing muffins as the test meals on three separate occasions. The researchers added 30 mg of cholesterol with a chemical tracer to all of the muffins so cholesterol absorption could be measured. The three treatments included 1) muffins with 80 g of wheat germ and 328 mg of naturally occurring phytosterols, 2) muffins with wheat germ in which the phytosterols had been removed and 3) muffins with wheat germ in which the removed phytosterols were added back.

RESULTS: The muffins with naturally occurring phytosterols reduced cholesterol absorption by 42.8 percent, compared to the phytosterol-free wheat-germ muffins. There was no significant difference in efficiency of cholesterol absorption between the muffins with naturally occurring phytosterols and those with added purified phytosterols.

IMPLICATIONS: This study demonstrated that purified plant sterols have the same cholesterol-lowering effect as naturally occurring sterols in wheat germ. Phytosterols in low-fat foods, such as wheat germ, may be useful in lowering cholesterol levels and a person's risk of heart disease.

Ostlund RE, Racette SB, Stenson WF, "Inhibition of cholesterol absorption by phytosterol-replete wheat germ compared with phytosterol-depleted wheat germ." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003;77:1385-1389.

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