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How Do They Work?
When you eat food that contains dietary cholesterol (which is found in animal products like meat, eggs and dairy), your intestinal tract absorbs that cholesterol and puts it into the bloodstream. Plant sterols and plant stanols are chemically similar to dietary cholesterol found in animal products. So when the sterols and stanols travel through your digestive tract, they get in the way of dietary cholesterol, preventing it from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Therefore, less total cholesterol is absorbed by your body when plant sterols and stanols are present. The cholesterol that is not absorbed leaves the body as waste. With regular use, plant sterols and plant stanols can result in a reduction in blood cholesterol levels.
Are They Safe and Effective?
Plant sterols and plant stanols have been studied for over 50 years. More than 140 published clinical studies have shown that plant sterols and plant stanols lower total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol. For example:
Consuming 1.8 to 2.8 grams of plant sterols and plant stanols per day over a period of 4 weeks to 3 months significantly lowered total cholesterol in participants by 7%-11%.
Consuming 2.0 to 2.5 grams of plant sterols and plant stanols per day resulted in 10%-14% reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol without side effects.
The National Cholesterol Education Program’s Adult Treatment Panel III also states that intakes of 2-3 grams of plant sterols and plant stanols daily will reduce LDL cholesterol by 6%-15%.
To put these numbers into perspective, let's assume that your total cholesterol is 225 mg/dL (that's considered high) and you added a therapeutic dose of plant sterols or plant stanols daily (according to package directions). You could lower your cholesterol down to 202 mg/dL—a significant reduction.
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.
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