A plant sterols and stanols (PSS) pills can reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called “bad” cholesterol.
Daily dietary supplementation of PSS from 1.5 to 3 g has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol by 7.5 percent to 12 percent, a review of different studies concludes.
One study found that 1.8 g of soy stanols pills over the course of 6 weeks could reduce bad cholesterol by nearly 10 percent.
Professor Anne Carol Goldberg, the study’s first author, said:
“Those who started with higher LDL got a bigger response, a bigger drop in their LDL, when they added plant sterols to their regimen.”
PSS, also known as phytosterols or plant steroids, are natural substances that are produced by plants.
Nuts, seeds, whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, and vegetable oil-based margarines contain good amounts of PSS.
Phytosterol dietary supplements and phytosterol-enriched foods have been sold for decades.
The National Cholesterol Education Program advises that people with high cholesterol should consume foods containing plant sterols, because of its effect on reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
PSS have a similar structure to cholesterol and compete with cholesterol to get absorbed.
This happens in such a way that it lowers the absorption of cholesterol in the gut and so they cannot be transported into the blood.
But PSS are not easily absorbed in the intestine unless they have been dissolved in something absorbent in the intestine.
Margarine is one sterol-containing food that has been found to lower LDL cholesterol, as well as some juices and puddings which have added plant sterols.
One or two tablespoons of sterol-containing margarine per day could reduce LDL cholesterol considerably.
However, these types of sterol-containing foods can be inconvenient for some patients or those who need to lose weight.
Professor Goldberg said:
“One problem is many of our patients already have lowered their intake of fats and calories and don’t use products like margarine on a regular basis.
In addition, many of these people eat out regularly, and they can’t easily take a particular brand of margarine to a restaurant.”
Consequently, the sterols in pill form can be a practical and helpful option but to see the benefits, they should be consumed with a proper meal such as breakfast, lunch or dinner and preferably twice a day.
About the author
Mina Dean is a Nutritionist and Food Scientist. She holds a BSc in Human Nutrition and an MSc in Food Science.