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Plant sterols, also known as phytosterols, play similar physiological functions to animal cholesterol in plants and are essential parts of the membranes of plant cells. Small amounts of sterols are naturally present in foods such fruits, vegetable oils, cereals, nuts, vegetables, seeds, legumes, and other plant sources. Incorporating plant sterols into the diet lowers blood cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of developing coronary heart disease, one of the world's leading causes of death. Since poor eating is one of the main causes of coronary heart disease, people can reduce their risk factors by making little changes to their daily routines, such as lowering their blood cholesterol levels. This paper explores the role of dietary plant strolls in the reduction of the risk coronary heart disease.
Plant sterols work by competing with cholesterol for absorption into the bloodstream. Since the rate of absorbing plant sterols into the bloodstream is higher than the rate of cholesterol absorption, less cholesterol is absorbed from the gut. More low-density lipoprotein cholesterol is thus transported to the liver to make bile which is very helpful in food digestion. That protects the arteries from being clogged because it prevents cholesterol from accumulating in the arterial walls, a process known as atherosclerosis. This process results in narrowing of the arteries and slowing down or blocking the flow of blood to the heart. Eventually, one develops coronary heart disease since less oxygen and nutrients reach the heart. Therefore, healthy levels of high-density and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol prevent accumulation of cholesterol in the walls of the arteries (Genser, Silbernagel, and De Backer 449).
Cholesterol, the primary risk factor for coronary disease, is obtained from non-dietary sources via processes like intestinal absorption and liver synthesis within the body of a human being. It is made by the liver and can also be ingested in animal-based foods like meat, eggs, and milk. The body uses it to build new body cells, produce hormones, and insulate nerves. The main difference between plant sterols and cholesterol is that the latter is only obtained through non-dietary sources. The amount of absorbed cholesterol, and the type, which circulates in a human being’s body has implications for his or her health (Genser, Silbernagel, and De Backer 450). This substance travels through the blood via lipoproteins – substances that contain proteins and lipids. The first one is low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and the second one is high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
When one’s blood has excess amounts of cholesterol (mainly low-density lipoprotein), they are likely to contract coronary heart disease. Taking plant sterols (1.5 and 3 grams) on a daily basis is helpful to lower the amount of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol by 7 to 12.5 percent (Ras, Fuchs, and Koppenol 3).
High cholesterol concentration in the body does not bring about any symptoms, so it is hard to know if the cholesterol concentration in the blood is too high. Therefore, it is imperative to ascertain the cholesterol levels through medical tests. Decreasing high cholesterol levels minimizes the chances of developing coronary heart disease. The amounts of plant sterols consumed in a diet are not sufficient to result in a significant reduction of the level of cholesterol in the blood; therefore, foods can be fortified with sterols to lower the cholesterol concentrations in the blood by a large percentage (Gylling, Plat, and Turley 347). Many countries globally support this method. Food processing industries use innovative techniques to extract plant sterols from vegetable oils and change their chemical structure to create esters, which are easier to add to foods that have relatively larger fat content, for instance, salad spreads or dressings. Adding sterol esters to food products provides a healthier alternative to high-cholesterol and high-saturated products like butter. Food processing companies also add plant sterol esters to low-fat foods such as low-fat yogurt, milk, and cereals. Fruit juice like orange juice with free or plant sterols that have not been esterified is also available in the current markets (Food Insight n.p.).
In conclusion, adopting healthy lifestyle habits and consuming foods, which increase the concentration of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the blood and decrease the levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the blood are good for one’s overall health. However, these steps might not be sufficient, and if the levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol remain high after improving eating habits, more work needs to be done to lower the risk of developing heart disease. A possible solution is consumption of plant sterols. Including plant sterols in various foods gives clinicians and consumers alternatives to manage coronary heart disease because their addition to one’s diet is the best tip to treat high cholesterol naturally. Taken as a drug therapy adjuvant, alone in a diet, or combined with other useful food constituents, dietary plant sterols are effective in reducing the concentration of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the blood. They do not result in any risk; therefore, they have been accepted globally as a way of minimizing the costs associated with depending heavily on pharmacological approaches to managing cholesterol and reducing the possibility of developing coronary heart disease.
Food Insight. "Functional Foods Fact Sheet: Plant Stanols and Sterols." Food Insight, http://www.foodinsight.org/Functional_Foods_Fact_Sheet_Plant_Stanols_and_Sterols. Accessed 7 April 2017.
Genser, Bernd, et al. "Plant Sterols and Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis." European Heart Journal, vol. 33, no. 4, 2012, pp. 444–451.
Gylling, Helena, Jogchum Plat, and Stephen Turley. "Plant Sterols and Plant Stanols in the Management of Dyslipidaemia and Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease." Atherosclerosis Journal, vol. 232, no. 2, 2014, pp. 346–360.
Ras, R. T., et al. "Effect of a Plant Sterol-Enriched Spread on Biomarkers of Endothelial Dysfunction and Low-grade Inflammation in Hypercholesterolaemic Subjects." Journal of Nutritional Science, 2016, pp. 1-6.
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