Plant Sterol's Health Benefits
|Because of their ability to block dietary cholesterol absorption, plant sterols can help lower your cholesterol levels. In the last few years, clinical research has also discovered other effects, including reducing symptoms of an enlarged prostate, improving the control of blood sugar among people with diabetes, and reducing Inflammation among patients with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Because much of this research is still in a preliminary phase, nutritionally oriented physicians are currently recommending obtaining plant sterols by eating whole foods. Generally, plant sterol supplements are usually only prescribed for those experiencing prostate disorders and patients needing to lower their cholesterol.
Specifically, plants sterols may help to:
- Prevent heart disease
By lowering total and LDL cholesterol levels, plant sterols and stanols may reduce your risk of heart disease. Studies have shown that daily ingestion of plant sterol can lower these cholesterol measurements by an average of 10% to 14%. Because of these strong findings, the National Cholesterol Education Panel issued a new recommendation in 2001 that plant stanols and sterols be added to cholesterol-lowering regimens, along with the more traditional cholesterol-fighting tools, such as regular exercise, weight loss, and a low-Fat diet (1). Plant Sterols do not appear to lower triglycerides, another blood lipid that is harmful in excess, or to raise levels of HDL, the "good" cholesterol. Recent study results find that supplementing your diet with plant sterols may be nearly as effective as lipid lowering statin drugs (2). In fact the same trial demonstrated that nine out of thirty-four participants were able to achieve lower LDL levels by implementing a diet high in plant sterols, than by taking statin drugs. The mechanism behind the improvement in LDL levels is not fully understood, but study results now suggest that plant sterols may lower the LDL particle size (3). There is debate about whether the sterol or stanol particles are more effective at lowering cholesterol (4). What w do know however, is that smaller LDL particles are more easily excreted by the body resulting in lower risk of adverse cardiac events and disease.
- Work together with other agents to combat heart disease
Plant sterols do not appear to inhibit the action of other heart friendly supplements such as hawthorn, or fish oils. However, more research is necessary to examine the benefits of combining supplements and conventional drugs to treat heart disease (5). During menopause women may want to investigate the possible heart healthy effects of soy based plant proteins as this can do double duty, working to reduce the effects of menopause and heart disease (6).
- Ease enlarged prostate
For the last 20 years, an herbal preparation containing plant sterols has been available in Germany for treatment of benign prostate hypertrophy (BPH) (7). More recently, a meta-analysis including 519 men with BPH, given the plant sterol beta-sitosterol, showed an increase in their urinary flow rate and a decrease in pain and burning (8).
- Calm inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Most traditional treatments for RA involve drugs that suppress the body's immune response, which can often cause troubling side effects. A mixture of the plant sterols beta-sitosterol and beta-sistosterolin has shown promise in helping to decrease inflammation and calm the overactive immune response that characterizes RA and other autoimmune diseases (9). More research is needed, however.
- Control blood sugar in diabetes
Some plant sterols stimulate insulin secretion and may contribute to better blood sugar control, a problem in people with diabetes. Animal studies have suggested that beta-sitosterol and beta-sistosterolin might be beneficial for people with diabetic and pre-diabetic conditions. More research is necessary before these findings are recommended to people with diabetes.
- Protect against and inhibit the growth of cancer
Medical researchers estimate that dietary factors contribute nearly 1/3 to our total risk of developing cancer over course of our lives. Recent studies suggest that two plant sterols, taraxasterol and beta-sitosterol, may inhibit breast and colon cancer (10, 11). More research is needed to determine how these plant sterols inhibit tumor proliferation and metastasis. However, since there have been no observed side effects from increased plant sterol ingestion, it may be a good idea to ensure increased levels of these plant proteins in your diet to prevent cancer before it develops.