Sterols: Plant Nutrients, Heart Helpers

More good news for vegetable-based diets. Prevention Magazine reports that plant sterols help to protect your heart. Julie Upton has more:
Sterols and stanols are found naturally in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and oils. Adding 2g of either to your daily diet can help lower your total cholesterol by about 10% — often within 2 weeks, according to numerous studies published in both American and European medical journals. That may not sound like a substantial reduction, but it could translate to a 20% lower risk of heart disease — which is the number one killer in the United States, says Joseph Keenan, MD, a professor of family medicine and a joint professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota.

Our primer will help you better understand how these unique compounds work, how they can protect your health, and the easiest way to incorporate them into your diet…

…Plant sterols and stanols act very much like cholesterol itself: Soft and waxy, they serve as building blocks for hormones, vitamins, and cell walls. These structural similarities give them their cholesterol-lowering capabilities. As sterols travel through the digestive tract, they compete with cholesterol, so some of the sterols are absorbed into the bloodstream instead of artery-clogging cholesterol. The bonus: Studies show that sterols and stanols don't affect artery-protecting HDL cholesterol.
Clearly not new information, but its still great to hear this echoed. So, are you looking for a good source of sterols? Dr. Fuhrman thinks eating nuts and seeds are a smart move. From the March 2007 edition of Healthy Times:
Raw nuts and seeds are packed with nutrients. They contain lignans, bioflavonoids, minerals, and other antioxidants that protect the fragile freshness of the fats therein; they also contain plant proteins and plant sterols that naturally lower cholesterol. And because nuts and seeds supply certain fibers, phytochemicals, phytosterols, and bioactive nutrients not found in other foods (such as polyphenols and arginine), they have other beneficial effects that prevent blood vessel inflammation.


Perhaps one of the most unexpected and novel findings in nutritional epidemiology in the past five years has been that nut consumption offers such strong protection against heart disease. Several clinical studies have observed beneficial effects of diets high in nuts (including walnuts, peanuts, almonds, and other nuts) on blood lipids.1 A review of 23 intervention trials using nuts and seeds demonstrated convincingly that eating nuts daily decreases total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.2 Not only do nuts and seeds lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol, they can help normalize a dangerous type of LDL molecule (the small, dense LDL particles that damage the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels).3
But remember, oils aren’t the best source of sterols. Dr. Fuhrman would rather you get them from the whole food and not oil. From Cholesterol Protection for Life:
Do not use oil: Instead, use nuts and avocado to flavor dressings and sauces. Oil is a high calorie food, with the vast majority of nutrients lost. In comparison, the use of raw nuts and seeds such as flax, walnuts, and sunflower seeds have shown remarkable protective effects for both heart disease and cancer. When you consume your fat in nature's protective package, (nuts and seeds) in place of extracted oils, you get the lignins and flavonoids and other valuable nutrients that support excellent health.


For example, flax seed oil is also oil and just like other oils it contains 120 calories per tablespoon. Ground flax seeds contain lignans, flavonoids beneficial fibers, sterols and a host of other beneficial substances and only has 30 calories per tablespoon. Eat the food not the extracted oil. Excessive amounts of oil are not favorable. Even too much of the benefical oil in flax is linked to higher rates of prostate cancer.4
1. Hu FB; Stampfer MJ. Nut consumption and risk of coronary heart disease: a review of epidemiologic evidence. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 1999 Nov; 1(3): 204-9.

2. Mukuddem-Petersen J; Oosthuizen W; Jerling JC. A systematic review of the effects of nuts on blood lipid profiles in humans. J Nutr. 2005; 135(9): 2082-9.

3. Lamarche B; Desroche S; Jenkins DJ; et al. Combined effects of a dietary portfolio of plant sterols, vegetable protein, viscous fiber and almonds on LDL particle size. Br J Nutr. 2004: 92(4):654-63.

4. Brouwer IA, Katan MB, Zock PL, et al. Dietary alpha-linolenic acid is associated with reduced risk of fatal coronary heart disease, but increased prostate cancer risk: a meta-analysis. J Nutr 2004 Apr;134(4):919-922.
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rick morris - August 14, 2007 7:11 PM

I tried plant sterols and I must say they are truly amazing for modulating or enhancing the immune system. It did wonders for mine and brought down my cholesterol but there is always a but or I guess a price to be paid for such wonders. My sexal libido went out the window and it was impossible to get erections. Any research I read on the subject didn't mention that. I took the beta sitosterol supplement. But from what I can see no matter how you bring down cholesterol your sex life suffers. It doesn't make sense to me as I thought it should be the other way around. I would love to know if the same thing happened to anyone else. I do eat avocados every week but now to my horror I just found out that it contains 75mg of beta sitosterol. YOu just can't win in the cholesterol war. And if you go vegetarian down comes the hdl. Isn't that suppose to be a bad thing. I am going to stick with my blueberries and hope that works. I guess sex is not that important when it comes to living a healthier life. It is not easy let me tell you. I think I will have to go vegetarian after this but since I don't eat hardly any meat I don't think that will make a difference but who know. One will never know unless one tries. But I must say I never felt so good as I did on the plant sterols. They are truly wonder plant nutrients that I can attest too except for the side effect.

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