Transcript: How Phytosterols Lower 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 have an anti-estrogenic effect, by fooling your body into trying to use them instead of our own estrogen (which is a thousand times stronger), phytosterols are plant-based cholesterol lookalikes, found predominantly 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 into our everflowing waste stream, our trash-picker 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 them into our body before coming back to the banks of our fecal flow.
And so, if there’s cholesterol in the waste stream, that’s what loads up the bin. But, if there’s phytosterols, too, half the bin may be filled up with cholesterol, and half with phytosterols—leaving the other half’s worth of cholesterol to flush out to sea.
Meanwhile, our body gets those 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 further down the line may accidentally 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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