Plant Sterols: A Brief Overview

You’ve probably heard people recommending you to use sterols for healthy circulatory system. But what are sterols? Does your body need them? Are they really safe to use as nutritional supplements? And perhaps you’d like to know more about it. If you do, then, you’ve come to the right place.

To start with, most people use sterols as steroid alcohols, which are a subgroup of the steroids. These are actually an important class of organic molecules, which naturally occurs in plants, animals and even fungi. The most familiar type of animal sterol is cholesterol, which is important to an animal’s cell membrane structure and function.

There are three types of sterols. First are the Phytosterols, which are sterols of plants. Among the good sources of this type of sterols include: grains, legumes, beans, milk, yogurt, sesame oil, vegetable oil, olive oil, corn oil, cashews, almonds, walnuts and pecans.

Second are the Zoosterols, which are sterols of animals. And finally, the third type of sterols is called Ergosterol which is a sterol that is present in the cell membrane of fungi.

Sterols as Nutritional Supplements

Now, among the three types of sterols, Phytosterols or plant sterols are the ones used as nutritional supplements or food additives. Recent studies show that this type of sterols is able to block cholesterol absorption, particularly in the human intestine.

With this ability, it is an effective means of reducing cholesterol levels in the human body. Therefore, using this as a food additive is currently approved by United States’ Food and Drug Administration.

However, recent concerns about the use Phytosterols as food additives have emerged. Some experts are worried that aside from blocking cholesterol absorption, sterols may also prevent the body to absorb important nutrients.

Because of this, the American Heart Association or AHA has recommended that only people with high levels of cholesterols should use these supplemental plant sterols. In addition, the AHA also advised pregnant women and nursing mothers not to take this type of food additive.

In addition to this, some experts also believe that once phytosterols undergo purification process, it becomes biologically in active, which means it may not be effective in lowering cholesterol levels.

Even so, Phytosterols look very promising and it looks like a good way to fight high cholesterol, heart disease and even atherosclerosis. It is imperative to study its long term effects to find out what may happen if higher amounts of purified phytosterols are consumed.