The Cholesterol Breakthrough - The Borneo Post - Sunday, 14 October 2001

The new millennium has ushered in a genuine breakthrough in the control of high blood cholesterol, which offers real hope to thousands of people struggling with this common problem. It's not a new chemical discovered by a drug company but a group of natural substances found in plants, called plant sterols. The importance of this development can't be overstated. Unlocking the cholesterol-lowering potential of these natural components of everyday food will change the way diet is used to reduce blood cholesterol forever.

Plant sterols have doubled the potential of diet to reduce blood cholesterol. And, as they can be incorporated into everyday foods like margarine, including them in our daily meals is as easy as preparing a sandwich. The results of scientific studies speak for themselves. Margarines enriched with plant sterols, simply spread on a few slices of bread each day, can reduce blood LDL-cholesterol by about 10 percent in a matter of a few weeks. Importantly, the effects of plant sterols are traditional to those of the traditional cholesterol-lowering diets.

What are plant sterols?
Plant sterols are found in a whole plant foods and are therefore a regular, though minor, part of our daily diet. They are oil substances and occur in the greatest amounts in foods naturally rich in vegetable oils such as nuts and seeds. The best sources of all in our current diet are vegetable oils and foods made from vegetable oils, such as margarines, salad dressings and mayonnaise.

Plant sterols are "cousins" of cholesterol and look very similar to it. This close similarity in appearances between plant sterols and cholesterol is the key to the blood cholesterol lowering effects of plant sterols. While the amounts of plant sterols we currently consume in foods have just a small impact on blood cholesterol, higher intakes can have a dramatic effect. This can be achieved by enriching foods with plant sterols.

How Do Plant Sterols Lower Cholesterol?
When we eat increased amounts of plant sterols, absorption of cholesterol from the
gut is reduced and our blood cholesterol levels fall.

Cholesterol in the gut comes from two sources. The majority of the cholesterol comes from the bile passing down from the liver. Bile enters the gut when we eat, as part of the digestion process. A smaller amount of the cholesterol entering the gut, about one third, comes from the animal foods in our daily diet. Plant sterols work in the gut, where they reduce the absorption of cholesterol from both sources into the bloodstream. As a result, more cholesterol passes out of the body and the level of cholesterol in the blood falls.

Do Plant Sterol Margarines Really Work?
Nutritional scientists have put the new plant sterol spreads to the trust in carefully controlled research studies. The results have been remarkable. Compared to standard margarines, the plant sterol-enriched spreads reduced subjects' LDL (bad) cholesterol by an average of 10 percent. There was more good news. The subjects' HDL (good) cholesterol was unaffected. A perfect outcome. And how long did it take to achieve the full cholesterol-lowering effect? Just three short weeks.

Plant sterols are a new and potent weapon in the fight against cholesterol - simple, safe and effective. Plant sterols are not a fad, which will be here today but gone tomorrow. Plant sterols are here for good. Diets to lower blood cholesterol levels have been changed forever.