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What Are Phytosterols?

Phytosterols can help keep your heart and brain young. Find out which foods contain them and how much you need.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
November 19, 2013
Episode #260

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The word "phytosterol" may be unfamiliar but you've probably been eating them your whole life.

At least I hope you have!  

Because a diet rich in phytosterols is a great way to reduce your risk of heart disease. And now, researchers suspect that phytosterols also play a role in prevention of Alzheimer's disease as well.

Read on to learn more.

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What Are Sterols?

The word “phyto” means plant, of course. But what does “sterol” mean? Sterols are a family of molecules with a specific shape and structure. Phytosterols are sterols found in plants. The sterols you find in animals are called zoosterols and the best-known of these is cholesterol. And here’s where the link between phytosterols and heart disease comes into play.

How Do Phytosterols Protect Your Heart and Brain?

Stimagsterol appears to inhibit the formation of the beta-amyloid protein that builds up in the brain of people with Alzheimer's. 

Phytosterols and cholesterol are similar enough in structure that they are absorbed through the same mechanisms—and only so many molecules are going to get through the gate. When your diet is high in phytosterols, you absorb less cholesterol. This can lead to lower LDL (or, “bad”) cholesterol levels and and a reduced risk of heart disease.

See also: Eat More of These Foods to Lower Your Cholesterol

 

Even better, new research suggests that phytosterols may also help reduce your risk of Alzheimer's. One phytosterol in particular, called stimagsterol, appears to inhibit the formation of the beta-amyloid protein that builds up in the brain of people with Alzheimer's. The research is still preliminary; we have to see if it works as well in people as it does in animals. But if stigmasterol can help protect our brains as well as our hearts, that will be a welcome bonus!

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