A crash course in phytosterols

Chemically similar to their animal counterpart cholesterol, phytosterols are fatty molecules naturally present in plants (vegetal oils, cereals, grains, fruits and vegetables). Their main role is as part of cell membranes. All these molecules have a steroid core with a hydroxyl group at carbon 3. Phytosterols differ from cholesterol by the presence of a methyl or ethyl group in the side chain at carbon 24, as well as a double bond at carbon 22. The most common phytosterols are ?-sitosterol, campesterol and stigmasterol.

Researchers have been studying the benefits of consuming plant sterols on cardiovascular health since the mid-20th century. Scientists continue to explore the various mechanisms involved. Over 200 clinical studies have been conducted on the cholesterol-lowering effect of phytosterols. Several competitive and inhibitory mechanisms have been described to explain it. The most well-characterised and well-known of them is the competitive inhibition of sterol absorption. Without plant sterols, cholesterol from food and the liver crosses naturally from the intestinal lumen to the blood stream in the shape of micellae, leading to the aggregation of fatty acids. Thanks to the similarity of their chemical structure, phytosterols compete with cholesterol for the formation of micellae in the bowel. Micellae composed of both cholesterol and phytosterol cannot be absorbed. Less cholesterol is absorbed and more of it is excreted in the stool.

Reduced intestinal absorption of cholesterol results in lower plasma cholesterol levels, in particular of the LDL variety (or “bad” cholesterol).

Numerous international, European and national health authorities have acknowledged the effectiveness of phytosterols. In particular, the European Commission confirmed that plant sterols have a real cholesterol-lowering effect and that high cholesterol levels are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Consuming 0.8 to 1.5 g of phytosterols daily lowers total blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. The dose-effect relationship is linear up to approximately 2 g and plateaus thereafter. Plant sterols are now included in official dietary recommendations for people with high cholesterol levels.

Phytosterols can easily be added to dietary supplements or functional foods such as margarines, yoghourts or fruit juices, as is the case with Phytopin®, extracted from the heart of Landes pines. Note that, unlike other sources of phytosterols such as soy, pines cannot be genetically modified and are not treated with pesticides. This means phytosterols from the Landes forests are natural and GMO-free.

Proven health benefits, unblemished natural quality and a wide range of applications… Purextract’s adventurers have kept Phytopin® pure and preserved its quality for over 40 years.

If you have not done so yet, continue your journey of discovery with another pine extract: polyphenols: what are polyphenols ?