Phytosterols: Definition, Function & Impact on Health

Instructor: Hannah Hess

Hannah has her bachelor's degree in nursing and her master's degree in nursing education. She has taught clinical for nursing students as well as worked as a staff RN on a maternity unit.

In this lesson you will learn about phytosterols and their connection with cholesterol. You will learn what they are, their function, and their impact on the human body.

Phytosterols

Have you ever heard the term phytosterols and been left feeling clueless? Sally felt the same way when she first started learning about health and nutrition after being diagnosed with high cholesterol. A friend had suggested she look into phytosterols and she was not sure where to begin.

Definition

So Sally started by first learning the definition of phytosterols. Phytosterols are cholesterol found in plants. They have a similar chemical make-up as cholesterol seen in the human body. They are found naturally in nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruit, and olive oil, among many other plant-sources.

Nuts and seeds, high levels of phytosterols

Function

At first, Sally was not sure what this had to do with her and her high cholesterol. But she learned that in the human body, phytosterols decrease the amount of cholesterol that is absorbed in the lower intestine. It does this by blocking the receptors in the gut that would normally absorb cholesterol, leaving the cholesterol to be emptied out of the body. If a person eats 2 grams a day of phytosterols it can decrease LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) by ten percent in three to four weeks. The average person today eats 150-450mg a day, falling short of the 2 gram goal. It is suggested that our ancestors, more specifically the hunters and gatherers, ate significantly more phytosterols as they ate many more vegetables and nuts than the current generation. Sally wondered if that is why they lived so much longer!

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