Trace elements

Phytosterols : lipids with many benefits

Phytosterols are plant lipids that have a structure very similar to cholesterol. They are found in many plant foods. Foods and supplements rich in phytosterols help regulate blood cholesterol levels by lowering LDL cholesterol levels, making them particularly attractive from a health point of view.

Characteristics of phytosterols:

  • Vegetable lipids present mainly in vegetable oils and oilseeds
  • Helps lower LDL cholesterol and reduce cardiovascular risk
  • Structure close to cholesterol
  • Many products enriched in phytosterols exist on the market (margarines, oils, etc.)
  • A varied and balanced diet is usually sufficient to provide adequate amounts of phytosterols

Why consume foods rich in phytosterols?

Phytosterols: definition and benefits

Reduction of LDL cholesterol

Phytosterols are plant sterols that have a structure almost identical to that of cholesterol. Therefore, during their absorption they compete with cholesterol and take, in part, its place at the carriers. Part of the cholesterol is eliminated by the stool and another is used for the synthesis of bile salts. A sufficient consumption of phytosterols thus makes it possible to significantly reduce the level of blood LDL, also called “bad” cholesterol.

Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease

In the body, an excessively high level of LDL cholesterol induces an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. When the LDL level is too high, it induces the formation of atheroma plaques that are deposited in the arteries. Gradually, the artery becomes blocked and circulation becomes difficult and conducive to clot formation. This phenomenon called atherosclerosis is a very important risk factor for serious vascular accidents (stroke, heart attack, etc.). By lowering the level of bad cholesterol, phytosterols help to prevent cardiovascular events.

Phytosterols and prostate

Phytosterols, and more particularly betasistosterols, are found to be particularly effective in preventing and treating benign prostatic hypertrophy in humans.

Foods rich in phytosterols

Foods Servings Phytosterol content
Sesame seeds dehydrated60 ml264 mg
Corn oil15 ml (1 tablespoon)136 mg
Sesame oil15 ml (1 tablespoon)121 mg
Wheat germ oil15 ml (1 tablespoon)77 mg
Dry roasted pistachios1/4 cup (60 mL)77 mg
Safflower oil15 ml (1 tablespoon)62 mg
Dehydrated sunflower seeds1/4 cup (60 mL)59 mg
Dehydrated pine nuts (pine nuts)1/4 cup (60 mL)59 mg
Dry roasted cashews1/4 cup (60 mL)52 mg
Linseed oil15 ml (1 tablespoon47 mg
Unbleached almonds roasted in oil1/4 cup (60 mL)47 mg
Macadamia nuts1/4 cup (60 mL)42 mg
Hazelnuts, filberts, unbleached, dry roasted1/4 cup (60 mL)40 mg
Pecans roasted in oil1/4 cup (60 mL)39 mg
Soybean oil15 ml (1 tablespoon)35 mg
Orange of California1 medium fruit34 mg
Olive oil15 ml (1 tablespoon)31 mg
Walnut oil15 ml (1 tablespoon)25 mg
Boiled asparagus125 ml (1/2 cup)22 mg
Dehydrated walnuts1/4 cup (60 mL)22 mg

How to use phytosterols?

Use of phytosterols

There are no specific nutritional recommendations for phytosterols. Some scientists agree, however, that beyond 3g per day, enrichment of plant sterols is no longer of interest for health.

Phytosterols in capsules

In cases of known hypercholesterolemia and in some cases, it may be advisable to use plant sterol supplementation to regulate cholesterol levels and prevent the risk of cardiovascular events. However, please ask for a personalized medical opinion before taking phytosterols in capsules.

Fortified Foods

On supermarket shelves, it is relatively easy to find a wide range of phytosterol-enriched products: margarines, dairy products, etc. The interest of these products has been demonstrated if they are used wisely and as part of a balanced diet. In fact, products naturally rich in phytosterols must be favored in the first place to prevent and limit cardiovascular risks.

Use of phytosterols in cosmetics

In cosmetics, phytosterols have a nourishing, anti-inflammatory and restructuring action that is particularly sought after. They are part of the composition of certain products with nourishing and soothing virtues.

Side effects of phytosterols

Phytosterol deficiency

There is no proper shortage of phytosterols. It is known, however, that a low intake of plant food sterols increases LDL cholesterol and cardiovascular risk.

Side effects related to an excess of plant sterols

Beyond 3g per day, phytosterols are no longer of particular interest. On the contrary, they can lead to vitamin A and E deficiency, both antioxidant and essential to health. An excess of phytosterols can therefore induce a fall in the efficiency of the immune system, oxidative stress and premature cell aging. In addition, we now know that an excess of phytosterols in the blood can potentially form deposits exactly as cholesterol does and thus increase the cardiovascular risk.

Interactions (with other nutrients)

Some cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins may compete with phytosterols, so seek medical advice in case of hypercholesterolemia under treatment before considering a diet rich in phytosterols.

Plant sterols reduce the absorption of certain fat-soluble vitamins (pro vitamin A and vitamin E in particular). In prevention, it is therefore recommended not to abuse it.

Chemical Properties

A sterol is a lipid that has a particular structure. It has a sterane nucleus and a hydroxyl group on carbon 3. Sterols are part of the steroid family. They have an indispensable role because they intervene at the level of the hormonal syntheses, the structure of the cells and the transport of vitamins.

Plant sterols, or phytosterols, are plant-derived lipids that have a structure very similar to that of cholesterol. By competition effect, they take place in the intestinal micelles and reduce their absorption. As a result, a sufficient intake of phytosterols can reduce the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood by 10 to 15%.

Nutrient History

The term phytosterol was used for the first time in the late 1890s. Science was thus interested in them in the early 1900s, but it is only around 1950 that will be discovered the extent of the potential of plant sterols for cardiovascular health.

In 2008, the European authorities allow food manufacturers to highlight the phytosterol content of some of their products. In a short time, there is a real race for enriched products to seduce the consumer: margarines, dairy products, oils, etc.

Even today, enriched products and plant sterol capsules are widely consumed in Europe.