Are you looking for a natural way to lower your cholesterol through diet alone?
It is a well known fact that high cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of heart disease and stroke. In fact, high levels of bad cholesterol, i.e. LDL cholesterol is notorious in causing narrowing of the heart arteries and heart attacks.
There are many ways to reduce cholesterol through diet and exercise alone. I have discussed this in detail in an article here.
The Truth About Cholesterol
I regularly see patients who have high cholesterol values on a routine blood report. The question I get asked is whether treatment is needed and whether it would be a problem to their health.
Let me break it down for you Baliga style.
Cholesterol matters. It has been proven in hundreds if not thousands of studies that it can affect the heart and cause heart attacks if the levels are very high.
There have been some articles recently published that suggest that cholesterol no longer matters. This is only partly true and is still under debate. This might be because of certain aspects of the study, the limitations it had and the fact that this data only applied to those over 60 years of age.
It is dietary cholesterol that does not matter. The blood levels of cholesterol still matter. At least this is what is the current school of thought.
You can eat what you want, but if your bad cholesterol levels increase, then you place your heart at risk.
I will be writing about cholesterol and it’s importance in another article soon, but for now I will keep it this short.
‘Plants’ To Lower Cholesterol?
You might have read the headline of this article and wondered what I was talking about. We have heard of herbs and spices reducing cholesterol but ‘plants’ brings a completely different picture to mind.
What I am talking about are plant sterols. I will also be talking about plant stanols.
Just like humans have cholesterol in their blood stream, plants have sterols in them.
Cholesterol in humans is needed for maintaining the integrity of cell membranes in the animal world, while plant sterols are needed to maintain cell structure in the plant world.
There are over 40 plant sterols currently identified. Of them, β-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol are the most abundant. They are very similar in structure to cholesterol.
The saturated version of plant sterols are plant stanols. There is a lower quantity of stanols compared to sterols in plants.
In the 1950’s, scientists discovered that plant sterols could lower blood cholesterol levels. It is believed that it worked by reducing the amount of cholesterol absorbed in the gut.
Here is a video from the makers of Flora Proactiv, a product that contains plant sterols, on how they lower cholesterol naturally.
Since then, there has been a great interest in adding plant sterols to margarine and other spreads to try and include it in the regular diet.
Plant Sterols And Stanols To Lower Cholesterol
The primary benefit of plant sterol consumption is that it can reduce cholesterol levels naturally.
In one study, it was found that regular consumption of between 1.8 to 2.6 grams of plant sterols decreased total cholesterol by 10.2% and bad cholesterol levels by 14.1 percent.
If you consume fortified foods that contain plant sterols, you could potentially lower the amount of bad cholesterol absorbed in the gut by around 50%.
The general guidance suggest consuming around 2 grams of plant sterols every day to help bring down cholesterol.
It must be noted that the reduction in cholesterol is greater in older patients compared to younger ones.
But this reduction in cholesterol has not been consistent in all clinical trials. For example, in one clinical study, regular consumption of 3 grams of plant stanols daily only led to a modest reduction in cholesterol levels.
However, this study was conducted in those who were already on a low fat – low cholesterol diet.
This would mean that if you are already following a low fat diet, adding plant sterols and stanols may not really be helpful.
Unfortunately, it is still not very clear.
For plant sterols to work effectively, they must be combined with a fat and then delivered to the body. This is why they are available as added to margarines or a part of powders that can be added to milk.
As a capsule, they would not work.
But Is It Safe?
There are some concerns that plant sterols may hinder the absorption of vitamin E and beta carotene. These are essential vitamins that are required for normal functioning of some vital processes.
However, studies have found this reduction to only be minimal. In fact, just eating more fruits and vegetables everyday can restore these lost levels.
Where Can You Source Plant Sterols?
These days, low fat spreads and certain milk shake powders contain plant sterols. While these do have some benefits, their quantities may not be sufficient to lower cholesterol significantly.
Relying on plant sterols alone to reduce cholesterol is not good. Other lifestyle changes such as exercise and following a healthy diet matter a lot, and should be continued.
If you are looking for natural sources of plant sterols, then you may want to consider sesame oil, wheatgerm oil, olive oil, pistachio nuts and macadamia nuts. However, mayonnaise, almond butter and herbs such as sage, thyme and oregano also contain them in small quantities.
Numerous products are now available online.
Plant sterols are an interesting addition to the dietary armamentarium of patients looking to lower cholesterol levels naturally. If you can find margarines or other products that contain them, discuss it with your doctor before jumping in to use them.