This article reviews the history of research on plant sterols, which are natural components of the human diet that are related to cholesterol. Plant sterols have been shown in human studies to lower serum cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol and they work through reduction of cholesterol absorption.
Plant sterols also have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidation properties and they have the side effect of lowering serum carotenoid levels. It is suggested that people who take plant sterols should be eating plenty of fruits and vegetables to replace the carotenoids lost.
Plant sterols include sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol. Average daily human intake is 160-400 mg. per day, with many of the studies on plant sterols using 800-1,000 mg. per day.
Dietary sources are vegetable oils (especially unrefined), nuts, and grains. There is abundant plant sterol content in amaranth oil, rice bran oil, avocado oil, virgin olive oil, macadamia nut oil, and argan oil. Naturally occurring wheat germ has the ability to lower cholesterol.
It is suggested that plant sterols have maximal effect if consumed with a cholesterol meal. However, pregnant women are not advised to take plant sterols, nor are they suggested for uses by children less than 5, who have normal cholesterol, because children need cholesterol for normal growth.
CONCLUSION: Plant sterols have shown health benefits in lowering cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol and are anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-oxidant. Use of plant sterols should be balanced by consuming carotenoids. Plant sterols are not suggested for pregnant women or children less than 5 years of age.