A different strategy to lower cholesterol: Plant Sterols and Stanols

What is Cholesterol

The body uses cholesterol to help build cells and produce hormones. Too much cholesterol in the blood is widely accepted as a major cause in developing anomalies inside arteries, known as plaques that increase your chances of having a heart attack or a stroke. Cholesterol  is carried in the blood stream in the form of lipoprotein, mainly two types:

  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) the “ Good Cholesterol” because HDL may also reduce inflammation and a high HDL level is linked with a lower risk of heart disease.
  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein). A certain level of LDL in your blood is normal and healthy because LDL moves cholesterol to the parts of your body that need it. But it is sometimes called “bad cholesterol” because a high level may increase your chances of developing heart disease.

How to lower cholesterol

High levels of cholesterol, especially in the LDL form, require treatment with powerful cholesterol lowering drugs, called statins. Mild form of Hypercholesterolemia can be treated with diet, exercise, and some selected natural foods, particularly those containing plant sterols and stanols. Plant sterols and stanols are substances that occur naturally in small amounts in many grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Since they have powerful cholesterol-lowering properties, manufacturers have started adding them to foods. You can now get stanols or sterols in margarine spreads, orange juice, cereals, and even granola bars.

On a molecular level, sterols and stanols look a lot like cholesterol. So when they travel through your digestive tract, they get in the way. They can prevent real cholesterol from being absorbed into your bloodstream. Instead of clogging up your arteries, the cholesterol just goes out with the waste.

One important study of people with high cholesterol found that less than an ounce of stanol-fortified margarine a day could lower “bad” LDL cholesterol by 14%. The results were published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

A more recent study from the University of California Davis Medical Center looked at the effects of sterol-fortified orange juice. Of 72 adults, half received regular orange juice and half the fortified OJ. After just two weeks, the people who drank the stanol-fortified juice had a 12.4% drop in their LDL cholesterol levels. The results were published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.

The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that people who have high cholesterol get 2 grams of stanols or sterols a day.
“Supplements that are fortified with sterols have been marketed but are not yet backed by evidence based science and do not offer as many benefits as getting sterols and stanols as they naturally occur.”

You have always to consult with your doctor before deciding what approach is indicated to lower your cholesterol levels.