Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney
If you have been looking for natural approaches for lowering your cholesterol, you've probably been hearing a lot about plant stanols and sterols lately.
Just what are plant stanols and sterols and why does the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend them as a natural approach for lowering cholesterol?
Stanols and sterols are natural substances found in plants that have a structural resemblance to cholesterol. Because they look a lot like cholesterol, they compete with cholesterol for absorption from the intestine into the bloodstream.
The NIH recommends that people with elevated cholesterol consume 2 grams of plant stanols and sterols a day because over 80 clinical studies have proven that they work.
Two grams a day of stanols and sterols is sufficient to lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) by 9 to 13%. And many other clinical studies have shown that lowering LDL cholesterol by that much will lower your risk of a heart attack by 18-26%.
No wonder the NIH is so bullish on stanols and sterols!
Here are answers to other questions that you haven't even thought of yet:
If 2 grams a day is good, would more be better?
No. Studies clearly show that 2 grams/day is optimal. Higher intakes do not lead to a significantly greater reduction in LDL cholesterol.
Are there any side effects from consuming plant stanols & sterols on a daily basis?
No. That's the great thing. Plant sterols and stanols are natural substances that we consume every day – and clinical studies have shown that they have no side effects.
Is there some magical stanol/sterol combination that is more effective than others (as some supplement manufacturers would have you believe)?
Again, the answer is no. Numerous studies have shown that stanols and sterols from many different sources have exactly the same effect and that it doesn't matter whether they are esterified or not.
Can I get 2 grams a day of stanols and sterols from my diet?
It's unlikely. Even the best natural sources (usually fruits and vegetables) only have 5 to 40 mg per serving. If you are a vegetarian you can expect to get around 700 mg from your diet. If you consume a typical American diet you get around 250 mg and if you eat a lot of fast food you are probably getting less than 100 mg.
I've noticed that food manufactures have started fortifying foods with stanols and/or sterols. Is this a good choice for me?
You need to remember that Big Food Inc is not always your friend.To get 2 grams of stanols from Benecol you would need to consume 280 calories, 4 grams of saturated fat and 1.2 grams of trans fat.
Two grams of stanols from Promise activ Super-Shot only costs you 70 calories, but it comes with artificial colors and 8 grams of sugar plus sucralose.
When should I consume stanols and sterols if I want to maximize my LDL cholesterol reduction?
Any time from 30 minutes prior to your meal to with your meal is ideal - but the plant sterols and stanols will exert their beneficial effects for several hours so the time that you take the stanols & sterols is not critical.
Are plant sterols and stanols a source of dietary fiber?
No. Plant stanols & sterols and dietary fiber work by different mechanisms - but they do complement each other in lowering LDL cholesterol. You should consider them a powerful one-two punch in your battle to lower your LDL cholesterol naturally.
I'm already taking a statin drug. Is it OK to take plant stanols & sterols as well.
Absolutely. The NIH recommends that people using statin drugs also follow their Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet - which includes 2 grams of plant stanols & sterols a day.
In fact, because the effects of statins and plant sterols & stanols are additive, you may be able to reduce your dosage of statins or eliminate them entirely - which means less cost and less risk of side effects to you. [Note: You should partner with your physician in determining the dosage of statins to take.]
Should I ask my doctor before taking plant stanols & sterols?
We always recommend that you keep your doctor informed about what you are doing. However, because the NIH recommends plant sterols and stanols for people with elevated cholesterol, your doctor is very likely to approve.
I'll bet you didn't even know that you had so many questions about plant stanols and sterols.
~For more information on how to lower your cholesterol naturally or order products, check out our website ToBeHealthy - Cholesterol Reduction
About The Author: Dr. Chaney has a BS in Chemistry from Duke University and a PhD in
Biochemistry from UCLA. He currently holds the rank of Professor at a major university where runs an active cancer research program and has published over 100 scientific articles and reviews in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.