Top 10 Interesting Facts about Sterols and Stanols
Sterols and stanols are compounds that are found in plants. They may also be referred to as a phytosterol. This all encompassing term refers to the entire group of these naturally occurring steroid compounds. In fact, there are over 200 types of phytosterol compounds found in various types of plants.
One of these in particular, known as beta sitosterol, is known as a plant sterol ester, according to WebMD. It is used to make medicine for a wide range of health conditions. However, it may be most well known for its cholesterol reducing effects. In fact, sterols and stanols in general have been proven in studies for the last fifty years to be effective in this regard. Although evidence documenting the positive effects that these plant compounds have on cholesterol numbers has been observed for decades, most people still do not know how they can benefit from phytosterols. Aside from that, there are probably a lot of other interesting things that most people are unaware of when it comes to these naturally occurring compounds and their heart healthy benefits. As such, we have compiled a list of the ten most interesting facts about sterols and stanols that may motivate you to ensure that they are incorporated into your diet regularly.
1. They Are Found in Foods You Eat Every Day: The good news is that getting these LDL reducing compounds is easier than you may think. Foods commonly consumed contain them, including vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits, according to WebMD. Since these foods are also chock full of nutrients and vitamins that the body needs anyways, the added benefit of obtaining sterols and stanols from them means that in terms of health incentives, healthy and whole plant foods are the way to go.
2. Manufacturers Are Adding Them in: Most of the time, when food manufacturers get crazy adding in different compounds to foods, the end results are less than pleasant. However, unlike preservatives and artificial flavorings, adding in phytosterols actually does have some body benefit. You can look for foods that may not normally contain these plant compounds, where they have been added in by the manufacturers.
3. They Are Masters of Disguise: Phytosterols are not magical. There is a specific way in which they lower cholesterol. WebMD describes this process as a deceitful game of dress up that they plant compounds play on your digestive tract. When sterols and stanols are ingested, the body can mistake them for cholesterol and absorb them instead of the bad cholesterol. On a microscopic level, the compounds appear markedly similar, thus they essentially shoo cholesterol out of the way and hop to the front of the absorption line, leaving cholesterol to be left behind for the waste processing line. So, what is cholesterol? The digestive tract may be easily fooled.
4. They Are Responsible for Coveted FDA Health Claims on Labels: It is not often that the FDA allows food manufacturers to post health claims on their products. However, this group of plant compounds holds the coveted distinction. Manufacturers of certain products are allowed to make the claim that their products are hearth healthy, based on the proven ability of the plant compounds to lower LDL cholesterol.
5. Supplements Are Not as Potent as Natural Food Sources: As is typical when a natural product is proven to have health benefits, supplements containing plant sterols and stanols are on the rise. However, Cleveland Clinic explains that plant sterols supplements are not as effective as natural food sources of the compounds, and that it is better to obtain their cholesterol lowering effects from whole foods.
6. They Are Both Amazing, No Need to Pick One over Another: Luckily, there is no need to be confused. While one is saturated and the other is not, there is no difference in terms of cholesterol benefit to either sterols or stanols. For those that are proficient label scourers, there is no need to differentiate between the two for the purposes of lowering low density lipoprotein cholesterol.
7. They Provide No Benefits to HDL Cholesterol and Triglyceride Levels: High triglycerides contribute to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, just like cholesterol does. However, triglycerides are different from cholesterol on a molecular level. And, unlike cholesterol, which is produced for the most part in the liver, high triglycerides are much more intimately linked to dietary intake. Unfortunately, while phytosterols are amazing, they provide no benefit to elevated levels of triglycerides (or, good cholesterol for that matter).
8. They Have No Serious Side Effects: What are regular statin drugs? Well, some users would describe them as little more than a bottle of side effects. Unfortunately, conventional treatments for high cholesterol are limited to the use of lipid lowering medications as they have proven to be the most effective treatment. However, side effects are incredibly common among most popular high cholesterol medications, including muscle problems and organ damage. There are no serious side effects to ingesting plant sterols and stanols, making them superior to cholesterol medications in terms of adverse effects.
9. Possible Unpleasant Reactions: Everything in moderation, including naturally occurring compounds. With excess consumption, it is possible to suffer from some tummy trouble from excessive intake of phytosterols. The common phrase “little and often” is thrown around regularly to describe the best and most effective way to use sterols and stanols for cholesterol reduction.
10. Studies Show Other Potential Benefits: As if dropping LDL cholesterol levels by over 10% in some people is not enough, studies have also shown other ways in which the body can benefit from these plant compounds. Their positive effects may be useful in people who have certain types of cancer and HIV. Additionally, their purported antifungal properties may mean that sterols and stanols could be effective against peptic ulcer disease caused by H. Pylori.