Natural Plant 'Sterols' Lower Cholesterol Levels

Source: VERIS Research Information Service

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BACKGROUND: Sterols are a group of substances that are similar to cholesterol in chemical structure and also have hormone-like functions in plants. However, sterols have no hormone-like effects in people, and they actually block absorption of cholesterol in the gut. Some brands of margarine have added sterols to reduce cholesterol levels. This study incorporated sterols into low-fat foods.

RESEARCH: Researchers asked two groups of men and women, with blood cholesterol levels of 232 mg/dl to 310 mg/dl, to follow one of two prepared diets in university hospital medical centers. One group ate foods - including breads, meat products, and jams - enriched with plant sterols. Their daily intake of sterols was 1.25 grams daily for the first five weeks, 2.5 grams daily for the second five weeks, and 5 grams daily during the final five weeks of the study. The other group ate the same foods, but without plant sterols. Seventy-one people completed the study.

RESULTS: People eating the sterol-enriched foods had an 8 percent decrease in their total cholesterol levels and a 13 percent decrease in LDL ('bad") cholesterol levels. In contrast, the other group had only a 3 percent decline in total cholesterol and a 5 percent decline in LDL cholesterol levels.

IMPLICATIONS: This study demonstrates that non-estenfied plant sterols consumed in low-fat foods are as effective in lowering serum cholesterol as plant sterols consumed with fats (e.g., margarine).

Tikkanen MJ, Hogstrom P, Tuomilehto J, et al., "Effect of a diet based on low-fat foods enriched with nonesterified plant sterols and mineral nutrients on serum cholesterol," American Journal of Cardiology, 2001;88:1157-1162.

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