For decades, adding plant sterols (phytosterols) to a healthy diet and lifestyle plan has been a go-to strategy for cardiologists and other clinicians eager to help patients manage their blood cholesterol. Why? Because this simple strategy can deliver serious results. If you struggle with high LDL cholesterol, here are seven things you need to know about phytosterols.
1. Phytosterols work in the digestive tract
Whether you consume phytosterols in the foods you eat or as a supplement with a meal, or both, these plant compounds enter the intestine where they help block the absorption of cholesterol into the body. This cholesterol-blocking action ultimately helps lower the amount of cholesterol that circulates in the blood. The cholesterol your body doesn’t absorb — along with all but a trace amount of phytosterols — travels through your colon and ends up in your stools.
2. Phytosterols target LDL “bad” cholesterol
The main therapeutic value of phytosterols is its ability to help lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. This cholesterol fraction is often called the “bad” cholesterol because a high blood level (100 mg/dL or more) is a key risk factor for heart disease.
3. Experts recommend intakes backed by research
Phytosterols and their ability to lower LDL cholesterol have been an active area of clinical research for decades. Several authoritative groups have independently reviewed this large body of evidence. The result is surprisingly consistent recommendations. For example:
- The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends consuming 2 to 3 grams of plant sterol esters every day (equivalent to 1.2 to 1.8 grams of free phytosterols) to help lower LDL cholesterol levels by 6 to 15 percent.1
- The National Lipid Association recommends consuming 2 grams of phytosterols every day to help lower LDL cholesterol levels by 5 to 10 percent.2
The European Atherosclerosis Society recommends consuming foods with plant sterols in amounts up to 2 grams per day to help lower LDL cholesterol levels by up to 10 percent.3
Based on these expert opinions, a heart-healthy diet with 2 to 3 grams of phytosterols (from foods or supplements) has the potential to reduce LDL cholesterol levels by up to 15 percent.
4. Even lower intakes offer cholesterol-lowering benefits
Don’t overlook the benefit of lower intakes of phytosterols. In one meta-analysis of over 120 clinical studies,4 researchers found that phytosterols reduce LDL cholesterol in a dose-dependent manner. A daily intake of less than 1 gram (600 mg, on average) was associated with an LDL cholesterol-lowering effect of about 6 percent. As intake increased up to 3 grams per day, the average LDL cholesterol-lowering effect also increased to about 12 percent.
5. Eating phytosterol-rich foods help, but may not be enough
Many plant foods contain plant sterols, especially nuts, seeds and vegetable oils, so they can add to your total phytosterols intake. But, even with the best of diets, it is unlikely you would eat enough to get the amount of phytosterols you need to help decrease LDL cholesterol.
In one study, researchers at Washington University Medical School measured the total phytosterols in sample daily meal plans for various diet types.5 They prepared a daily meal plan based on a high-phytosterols version of the DASH diet, a diet plan typically recommended for people with high blood pressure as well as heart disease. They also prepared daily meal plans based on the American Heart Association (AHA) diet, a low-carbohydrate diet, and a vegan diet.
Next, they homogenized each meal plan and had the liquefied goop analyzed for all types of phytosterols. The result? The high-phytosterol DASH diet had the most phytosterols (500 mg), followed by the vegan diet (445 mg), AHA diet (340 mg) and the low-carb diet (163 mg) for every 2,000 calories.
So even with a healthy diet plan like the DASH diet optimized to increase the phytosterols content, the total amount of phytosterols you get from foods alone is unlikely to offer meaningful help to lower LDL cholesterol. That’s where supplementation can help.
6. A daily phytosterols supplement can help fill the gap
A good strategy to help nudge your LDL cholesterol back into the normal range is to pair a heart-healthy diet rich in phytosterols like a DASH-style or Mediterranean-style diet with a daily supplement. That’s why you’ll find phytosterols in our line of healthy cholesterol and lipid metabolism supplements.
7. A daily supplement shouldn’t break the bank
For pennies a day, you can add a quality phytosterols supplement like our Phytosterols Plant Sterols to your daily routine. This drug-free option delivers 450 mg of phytosterols in every tablet, making it a convenient way to ensure you consume enough cholesterol-blocking phytosterols every day. Plus, it just might reduce your risk of heart disease.**
Of course, if you have high LDL cholesterol, be sure to talk to your doctor before adding a phytosterols supplement to your overall therapeutic plan for optimal heart health.
Ready to get started? Talk to your doctor today.
**Foods and supplements containing at least 400 mg per serving of plant sterols, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 800 mg, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. A serving of Phytosterols Plant Sterols supplies 450 mg of phytosterols.
1. National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III). Final Report. NIH Publication No. 02- 5215. September 2002.
2. Jacobson TA, Maki KC, Orringer CE, et al.; NLA Expert Panel. National Lipid Association recommendations for patient-centered management of dyslipidemia: part 2. J Clin Lipidol. 2015;9(6 suppl):S1-122.e1. PMID: 26699442.
3. Gylling H, Plat J, Turley S, et al. Plant sterols and plant stanols in the management of dyslipidaemia and prevention of cardiovascular disease. Atherosclerosis. 2014;232(2):346-60. Review.
4. Ras RT, Geleijnse JM, Trautwein EA. LDL-cholesterol-lowering effect of plant sterols and stanols across different dose ranges: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. Br J Nutr. 2014;112(2):214-9. PMID: 24780090.
5. Racette SB, Spearie CA, Phillips KM, Lin X, Ma L, Ostlund RE Jr. Phytosterol-deficient and high- phytosterol diets developed for controlled feeding studies. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(12):2043-51. PMID: 19942022.