Sterol, which is also known as steroid alcohol, is fat-like organic molecules that can be found, naturally, in many plants and fungi and in animals in the form of cholesterol. Some commonly eaten foods which sterols include vegetable, nuts and meat. The average person consumes about 200 to 400 miligrams of plant sterols, alone, per day. As you may already know, cholesterol is essential to cellular function, but can also pose many problems if a person has too much unhealthy cholesterol.
There are a few different types of sterol. The first are sterols of plants, also known as phytosterols. Some important sterols that fall into this class are campesterol, sitosterol and stigmasterol. There are also sterols from animals, which are known as zoosterols. The most important sterols from this category are cholesterol and various steroid hormones. Sterols from fungi are a seperate class, as well, with a notable sterol, ergosterol, being from this category. Ergosterol works in a similar manner as cholesterol does.
Role of Phytosterols
Phytosterols, which again are the sterols from plants, have been shown in studies to help block the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines of humans. This, in turn, helps to lower the cholesterol levels in humans. This is great news for many who suffer from high cholesterol levels, which can lead to many diseases, strokes and heart attacks. The FDA has approved phytosteroluse as an additive in foods. And, the American Heart Association has recommended people with high cholesterol to take plant sterols as a supplement.
Amount of Phytosterols
Phytosterol absorption in the human body is poor. Our bodies are only able to absorb less than 10% of the phytosterols that we ingest. The amounts of phytosterols needed to adequately reduce cholesterol levels are around 3,400 to 5,100 milligrams, which is about 10 to 20% more than what the average person consumes in their daily diet. Therefore, a supplement or medication would need to be taken to reduce the levels. But, the reduction in LDL levels of cholesterol, also known as “bad cholesterol“, is substantial, at 10 to 15% reduction.
Cautionary Advice Regarding Phytosterols
Phytosterol supplements should not be taken by pregnant women or mothers who are currently nursing. Also, phytosterols have been noted to block the absorption of cholesterol in the body, which is a good thing, but research has shown that phytosterols may also block the absorption of other, healthy and needed nutrients in the body. Also, some researchers believe that, while phytosterols help to reduce the levels of bad cholesterol, they may actually increase the risk of heart disease because of the high blood levels of sterols.
Sitosterolemia is a disease that, although rare, afflicts some people. This genetic disorder causes a problem due to the fact that it allows the body to absorb more than the normal amount of sterols from the intestine. This creates high levels of sterols in the blood, which can lead to many heart health problems, including heart attacks, coronary disease and aortic valve disease. The people affected by this disease need medical treatment to actually block the the absorption of sterols in their bodies.