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What are Phytosterols?

Phytosterols are naturally occurring compounds found in plants that resemble cholesterol in structure. They're known for their potential to lower LDL cholesterol levels, thus supporting heart health. By integrating phytosterols into your diet through foods like nuts and seeds, you could take a proactive step towards wellness. How might these plant-based allies fit into your daily routine?
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Phytosterols are compounds found in many plants. They are a type of sterol, a specific class of chemical compound, and they are very similar to cholesterol, the type of sterol found in humans. In plants, phytosterols contribute to the structure of the cell membrane, just like cholesterol does in animals. These compounds have a number of interesting effects on the bodies of animals when they are ingested which have led to great interest in phytosterols and their potential applications.

While it may seem counterintuitive to ingest sterols to lower cholesterol, since cholesterol is just a type of sterol, phytosterols appear to actively block the absorption of cholesterol, which can lead to a reduction in levels of bad cholesterol. This, in turn, can reduce the accumulation of cholesterol in the body, reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems. Plant sterols confer these benefits while animal sterols such as those found in meat and animal products do not, illustrating the structural differences between these two groups of sterols.

In addition to taking a phytosterol, a patient needs to avoid fried foods that are high in saturated fat.
In addition to taking a phytosterol, a patient needs to avoid fried foods that are high in saturated fat.

Some studies have suggested that certain phytosterols can interfere with the cell membranes in animals, and that they can also alter the levels of certain hormones. Over 40 phytosterols have been identified by researchers, and numerous others are waiting for identification. The function of the known compounds in the body of humans is not fully understood, and there are some competing claims about phytosterols, with some people suggesting that they are highly beneficial while others recommend that they be avoided.

A well-balanced diet may be able to meet a person's nutritional needs.
A well-balanced diet may be able to meet a person's nutritional needs.

Foods rich in phytosterols include oils, nuts, and wheat germ. Many of these foods are recommended as part of a healthy diet which can lower levels of bad cholesterol. It is also possible to find products which have been fortified with phytosterols, with such products often containing health claims which are sometimes a topic of dispute in the medical community. These compounds are also used in products like skin care cream, with the goal of improving skin health.

Cardiovascular exercise is essential, even for people who eat well-balanced diets.
Cardiovascular exercise is essential, even for people who eat well-balanced diets.

People who eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly should get all of the nutrition they need and maintain their bodies in a state of balance. People who eat unbalanced diets which are too high or too low in various nutrients can experience health problems. It is unlikely that consuming more phytosterols alone would provide health benefits, although the consumption of phytosterol-rich foods might be beneficial because such foods contain a broad spectrum of nutritionally useful compounds.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllTheScience researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllTheScience researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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    • In addition to taking a phytosterol, a patient needs to avoid fried foods that are high in saturated fat.
      By: Magdalena Kucova
      In addition to taking a phytosterol, a patient needs to avoid fried foods that are high in saturated fat.
    • A well-balanced diet may be able to meet a person's nutritional needs.
      By: marrakeshh
      A well-balanced diet may be able to meet a person's nutritional needs.
    • Cardiovascular exercise is essential, even for people who eat well-balanced diets.
      By: Antonioguillem
      Cardiovascular exercise is essential, even for people who eat well-balanced diets.
    • Sterols found in meat and other animal products will not lower cholesterol.
      By: Syda Productions
      Sterols found in meat and other animal products will not lower cholesterol.
    • Phytosterols can lower cholesterol levels.
      By: blueringmedia
      Phytosterols can lower cholesterol levels.