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Plant sterols and Blood Cholesterol Levels

Reducing blood cholesterol is an objective that many people have set for themselves, very often after coming home from their doctor's office where they have been given the news that they are hypercholesterolemic. More and more people are getting this bad news back with their blood tests. Health Canada has noted that 50 percent of the Canadian population is moderately to highly hypercholesterolemic.


High blood cholesterol is a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Both total cholesterol, and one of components of total cholesterol called low density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol are the targets of cholesterol reduction regimes. Extensive clinical trials have shown that the consumption of a class of compounds found in many plants called sterols can reduce both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.

Plants contain a range of sterols; plant sterols act as a structural component in the cell membrane. The chemical structure of all sterols consists of three fused cyclohexane rings with hydrophenanthrene ring arrangement. More than 40 phytosterols have been isolated and identified. Beta-sitosterol (found in soybeans and palm oil) is the most abundant plant sterol. Other plant sterols include campesterol (found in canola and corn), stigmasterol (found in soybean), and brassicasterol (found in canola).

In approving phytosterols for inclusion in such products as margarine, Health Canada wrote: “Consumption of these foods results in the lowering of total blood cholesterol as well as LDL-cholesterol levels, while having no detrimental effect on HDL-cholesterol levels, resulting in overall improvements in the blood lipid profile.”

Eating foods such as margarine that are enriched with plant sterols may become an easy way to help control blood cholesterol levels and contribute to heart health.

A Typical Plant Sterol Chemical Structure

chemical structue


Summary of Assessment of a health claim about plant sterols in foods and blood cholesterol lowering
Health Canada

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