Sterol Esters Reduce Total Cholesterol and LDL Cholesterol Levels

BACKGROUND: Plant sterols, such as sterol esters, are natural blockers of cholesterol absorption. They are added to some brands of "heart-healthy" margarine-type spreads because studies have consistently found that they lower blood levels of cholesterol, a risk factor for coronary artery disease.

RESEARCH: Researchers asked 57 healthy men and women, all with normal cholesterol levels, to consume either a sterol ester-enriched croissant and muffin or a conventional croissant and muffin daily for eight weeks. The enriched croissants and muffins provided 3.2 grams daily of sterols in the form of sterol esters, plus small amounts of vitamin E and beta-carotene. All of the subjects had been regular consumers of bakery products, so the only significant alteration was the addition of the sterol esters to the diet of the experimental group.

RESULTS: Subjects eating sterol ester-enriched croissants and muffins had average reductions of 8.9 percent in total cholesterol and 14.7 percent in LDL cholesterol, compared with those not consuming sterol esters. Subjects eating the sterol-ester-enriched croissants and muffins also maintained normal blood levels of vitamin E and beta-carotene.

IMPLICATIONS: This study shows that the addition of sterol esters to the diet can significantly reduce cholesterol levels and thus potentially lower the risk of coronary artery disease. The study also demonstrated that such foods as croissants and muffins can be used to add sterol esters to the diet.

Quilez J, Rafecas M, Brufau G, et al. "Bakery products enriched with phytosterol esters, alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene decrease plasma LDL-cholesterol and maintain plasma beta-carotene concentrations in normocholesterolemic men and women."
Journal of Nutrition, 2003;133:3103-3109.

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