Do Phytosterols Help Lower Cholesterol?
Tens of thousands of years ago, around the mid- to upper-Paleolithic period, our ancestors were gathering plant-based food on a daily basis. These diets were likely rich in Phytosterols.
Today’s unrefined vegetable, nut and olive oils contain the highest amounts of Phytosterols, and nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains come close behind.
There is mounting evidence suggesting that increasing intake of dietary Phytosterols could improve cholesterol levels.
Phytosterols and “bad” cholesterol.
Phytosterols encompasses plant-derived sterols and stanols. These two phytochemicals help prevent cholesterol absorption.
The process by which this happens is pretty interesting: because Phytosterols are structurally similar to cholesterol, the two actually compete for absorption in the gut, resulting in reduced blood cholesterol levels. In fact, Phytosterols are a plant’s version of cholesterol!
In a recent meta-analysis (a study of other studies), Phytosterols were shown to lower LDL cholesterol (LDL-C), commonly referred to as “bad” cholesterol. Higher LDL-C levels have generally been directly linked to cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke, but evidence in recent years has been turning this notion on its head.
The thing to remember here is LDL-C is just one of many risk factors for a range of diseases. As the title of one study puts it: “the lower the better”.
What are the benefits of Phytosterols?
There is strong evidence associating LDL-C with atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is characterized by plaque buildup in your arteries - blood vessels that carry blood to various parts of your body. Plaque consists of cholesterol, fat, Calcium and other substances. This buildup may eventually lead to a host of problems, including cardiovascular disease.
There’s a caveat here: just because disease A may lead to disease B, doesn’t mean that something that treats A will treat B as well. In fact, there’s no evidence linking Phytosterols with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease - there are even studies showing that high levels are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease!
But Phytosterols do help lower LDL-C. Studies have shown Phytosterols effectively reduced LDL-C, but the results were tied to participants’ baseline LDL levels, time taken, and frequency of intake per day.
How much Phytosterols should you take?
The FDA has backed intake of “at least 1.3 grams” of Phytosterols per day. It’s healthy to be skeptical of suggested intake levels directed at hundreds of millions of people.
People with genetic conditions like sitosterolemia have to be extra careful with Phytosterols, as sitosterolemia causes an unhealthy buildup of plant sterols. When you submit your DNA kit results from your Rootine kit, we check for genetic mutations that might lead to radically different nutrient requirements.
Following averages can be dangerous. How much Phytosterols you actually need depends on genetic and lifestyle factors. Rootine checks both before manufacturing your monthly supply of personalized nutrients.
What foods have Phytosterols?
Vegetarians naturally get plenty of Phytosterols, as the nutrient is found in plants. The following foods are rich sources of Phytosterols:
- Soybeans: ½ cup, raw, have 149mg of Phytosterols.
- Peas: ½ cup, raw, have 133mg.
- Kidney beans: ½ cup, raw, have 117mg.
- Cashews: 28g have 45mg.
- Orange: has 34mg.
- Olive oil: 1 tablespoon has 30mg.
- Banana: has 24mg.
Phytosterols are often added to a number of foods in the US.
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