Plant sterols and stanols (also called phytosterols) are natural fatty substances found in all plants. Similar in structure to cholesterol, plant sterols and stanols (saturated sterols) have unique health benefits—and none of cholesterol’s negative effects. Here are a few ways plant sterols and stanols can help improve your health.
Cholesterol control. Since the 1950s, numerous studies have confirmed sterols’ cholesterol-reducing properties. For example, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that a daily intake of 1,800–2,600 mg of plant sterols and stanols decreased total cholesterol by 10.2 percent, with LDL (“bad”) cholesterol dropping by 14.1 percent.
Several different explanations for these effects have been proposed, but it is widely believed that the structural similarities between sterols and cholesterol cause the two to compete for absorption in the small intestine. This lowers blood levels of LDL while leaving HDL (“good”) cholesterol largely unaffected, resulting in greatly improved cholesterol ratios.
Furthermore, phytosterols’ actions do not interfere with other cholesterol-lowering supplements or drugs, so they can be safely combined with other regimens.
Prostate relief. I’ve long recommended saw palmetto for the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Saw palmetto, which contains plant sterols and stanols, has been found to be very effective at reducing BPH symptoms such as frequent urination, urgency and incomplete voiding. This herb works on two fronts: it reduces prostate size by inhibiting the activity of an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase that converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the hormone that ultimately drives prostate growth, and its abundant sterols help reduce swelling.
But there is another sterol—beta sitosterol—that is also beneficial for prostate health and function. Studies have shown that beta sitosterol can increase peak urinary flow and decrease the volume of urine left in the bladder. Moreover, at dosages ranging from 60–130 mg per day, beta sitosterol can reduce symptoms of BPH rather quickly.
Immune function improvement. Research has found that plant sterols and stanols also help control and regulate several aspects of the immune response. Simply stated, plant sterols and stanols appear to be capable of selectively enhancing the activity of beneficial immune cells while inhibiting the response of those that cause inflammation and chronic disease.
Several published reports have illustrated these effects. One study showed sterol supplements boosted the production of disease-fighting T-cells by as much as 920 percent in healthy adults. Another widely touted study in patients with rheumatoid arthritis indicated that plant sterols and stanols have anti-inflammatory capabilities similar to that of the steroid drug cortisone—but with none of its negative effects.
Since sterols are bound to plant fibers, it is difficult for your body to absorb them. Plus, storing, freezing and cooking can destroy these fragile compounds. As a result, we rarely get sufficient quantities of plant sterols and stanols from our diets.
The simplest way to get therapeutic amounts of these very beneficial compounds is by taking supplements that contain plant sterols and stanols.
Now it’s your turn: Have you ever used plant sterols and stanols before?
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