What are the health benefits of phytosterols?

Phytosterols are natural plant derived nutrients that the body uses to produce the hormones it needs.

They are another of the “must supplement” nutrients since, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and other notable health researchers, the Western diet is low in phytosterols compared to early human diets which were rich in these compounds.

Hormones are chemical messengers released by a cell or endocrine gland in one part of the body that sends out messages that affect cells in other parts of the organism.

Whereas Glyconutrients were discussed as enablers of cell-to-cell communications, phytohormones can be viewed as enablers of organ-to-organ communications.

Endocrine glands are organs such as the pancreas, adrenals, thyroids, thymus, pituitary, pineal, ovaries and testes; all of which secrete their hormones directly into the bloodstream.

Importance of Phytosterols

If we got all the phytosterols we needed in our food, perhaps there wouldn’t be so many prescriptions for Lipitor, Crestor, Zocor and others written.

Right, a prime function of phytosterols is to inhibit the intestinal absorption of cholesterol. It has been proven in numerous clinical trials that a daily diet enriched with plant sterols or stanols, does lower serum LDL cholesterol. Low density lipoprotein is popularly known as the l .

One of the most important and most prevalent of phytohormones are the phytoestrogens.  Throughout this section, we will be using phytosterols and phytohormones interchangeably. 

The estrogens produced naturally in our bodies are actually a group of hormones that have a major effect on the metabolism of nutrients such as minerals, protein, carbohydrates and fats. 

Phytoestrogens are similar to our natural estrogens and have been shown to have the same effects but can also block the action of our natural estrogens.

There are three types of phytoestrogens:  saponins, isoflavones and lignins; all of which bestow differing health benefits. 

For example, diosgenin, one of the saponins, can be converted into the natural hormones progesterone and cortisone.  Studies on this compound indicate that it may lower blood cholesterol levels, reduce blood sugar, decrease inflammation and protect against bacterial infections and even certain types of cancers.

There are about 700 known isoflavones, many of which are thought to provide protection against such health issues as cancers, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and numerous others. 

The lignin phytohormones provide the building blocks for cell walls in plants and in humans, have shown the ability to inhibit fungus growth and kill various bacteria and viruses. 

The lignins are most prevalent in whole grains, beans, vegetables and seeds.  Flax seeds are one of the best sources for lignins.

How much phytosterols is enough?

On average, most Americans get between 2 and 4 mg/day of the phytosterols discussed above. Natural health practitioners believe that we actually need to consume between 30 and 50 mg/day of phytosterols.

In comparison, many Asian populations that exhibit low incidences of prostate and breast cancer consume between 20 and 80 mg/day of the isoflavone genistein, mainly from soy. In contract, we in the U.S. might get 1 to 3 mg/day of genistein.

With all phytosterols, bioavailability (absorption) is an issue in that dietary phytohormones undergo a fermentation process in the gut and both fermented products and the phytoestrogens are absorbed into the blood stream.

The process depends on the availability of bacteria to breakdown the food products and there are several things that can impact on the presence of such bacterial.

Antibiotics will kill off beneficial bacteria as well as the harmful bacteria. An inadequate intake of fiber can reduce the fermentation action of digestive bacteria.

To get an idea of how many mg/serving some of the common sources contain, following are a few examples:

  • a half cup of wheat germ contains 197 mg
  • a tablespoon of sesame oil contains 118 mg
  • a tablespoon of corn oil contains 102 mg
  • a tablespoon of canola oil contains 92 mg
  • half a cup of wheat bran contains 58 mg
  • one ounce of almonds contains 39 mg
  • two slices of rye bread contain 33 mg