Phytosterols are plant-based cholesterol look-alikes in nuts and seeds that help maximize our body’s excretion of excess cholesterol.
The ability of phytosterols in plant foods to reduce cholesterol levels was first reported more than 80 years ago. The same trash-picker analogy used to explain the effects of fiber on cholesterol can help us understand how phytosterols and phytostanols work. Just like phytoestrogens in plants can have an anti-estrogenic effect by fooling your body into trying to use them instead of your own estrogen--which is a thousand times stronger, phytosterols are plant-based cholesterol look-alikes found predominnetly in nuts and seeds. Here’s what cholesterol looks like, here’s what a phytosterol looks like. Can you see the difference?
When we eat nuts and seeds and phytosterols find their way in our ever flowing waste stream, our trash-picking enterocytes in our gut lining throw them in their bins along with actual cholesterol. Their bins can only hold so much, though, before they have to go empty it into the body before coming back to the banks of our fecal flow.
And so if there’s just cholesterol in the waste stream, that’s what loads up the bin, but if there’s phytosterols too, half the bin may be filled with cholesterol and half with phytosterols, leaving the other half’s worth of cholesterol to flush out to sea.
Meanwhile our body gets these phytosterols absorbed and says what am I supposed to do with these plant molecules and chucks them back down the trash chute, where trash pickers furher down the line may accidentlay pick them back up again and repeat the process, so in the end, or out the end, because we swallowed all these phytosterols into our gut less excess cholesterol gets reabsorbed and it ends up getting dumped. This shows the increased fecal excretion of both dietary and endogenous cholesterol when one eats a phytosterol-rich diet.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Kerry Skinner.
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This is the third video of a five-part series on the cholesterol-lowering effects of nuts and seeds. In Friday's video-of-the-day, Nuts and Bolts of Cholesterol Lowering, I reviewed the data showing nuts decrease cholesterol levels and heart disease mortality. Yesterday's video-of-the-day How Fiber Lowers Cholesterol attempted to explain the fiber mechanism and the final two will wrap up on a more practical note, discussing optimal phytosterol doses andsources. The role played by phytoestrogens can be found in Soy & Breast Cancer Survival and Soy Hormones & Male Fertility. Not all molecular mimics are good, though. Check out Poultry and Paralysis. If you haven't yet, feel free to subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.