Maintaining a healthy heart is very essential but equally difficult. With the advancement of the age, the required attention to your internal body and mind also increases significantly. However, your heart cannot remain healthy, especially when you are suffering from high cholesterol which can limit your blood flow and can even cause a heart attack if proper medications are not taken.
Along with taking medications, it is very essential to include phytosterols in your diet. Phytosterols have the qualities to lower cholesterol and are claimed to be good for your heart. However, there are some potential side-effects included here as well. But first, let us understand what are phytosterols and where are they predominantly found.
What are Phytosterols?
Just like humans have a normal amount of cholesterol in our body to make hormones and vitamin D, plants also have something similar called phytosterols. Our bodies have evolved to function on both cholesterol and phytosterols, but naturally, they prefer the former one.
The common types of phytosterols occurring in our diet are:
When these phytosterols enter your body through the types of food in which they are found, they compete with the cholesterol levels in your body. This ‘face-off’ leads to a significant reduction in your cholesterol levels. This is essentially helpful if you are suffering from the bad cholesterol, that is, the low-density lipoprotein (LPL), which can cause blood clots.
Sources of Phytosterols:
Phytosterol supplements are predominantly found in all the grocery stores and chemists shops. However, if you are looking for a more natural way, then phytosterols are found in nuts, mushrooms, lentils, fruits, vegetables, vegetable oils, whole grains and soybeans.
Out of which, vegetable oils contain a large proportion of phytosterols as these oils are mixed with many processed foods. So, the dietary intake of phytosterols increases especially when it comes to vegetable oils.
Phytosterols are also added to margarine and cereal grains, which makes it accessible to the general public much easier.
3 Major benefits of Phytosterols:
1. Phytosterols and Cholesterol:
As mentioned earlier, phytosterols are like cholesterols in our body. If consumed in equal amounts they can lower the levels of cholesterol, as our bodies have evolved to function on both of them.
If you consume 2 or 3 grams of phytosterols for 3 to 4 weeks regularly, you will notice that the levels of bad cholesterol or LDL cholesterol have reduced by 10% in your blood. These can be a boon for people suffering from high cholesterol, even if they are not any cholesterol drugs or medications.
However, one thing needs to be established here. Although cholesterol can impact the health of your heart and cause heart diseases, it is not the main cause for poor heart health. Therefore, phytosterols can help you lower the levels of cholesterol in your blood, but it can ensure the complete health of your heart.
2. Phytosterols and Cancer:
Studies depict through the experiments carried out on animals that significant consumption of phytosterols can help to reduce the growth of tumors and prevent the spread of it.
Moreover, it also reduces the risk of cancer. The studies also show that people who consume phytosterols have lesser chances of acquiring stomach, lung, breast and ovarian cancer than the ones who do not.
3. Phytosterols for skin:
Phytosterols have anti-inflammatory properties on the skin. When they are applied to the skin, they can depict remarkable effects on the skin. Some of the common effects of phytosterols on the skin are:
- Rejuvenating the skin barriers and their functions
- Increasing the elasticity of the skin
- Smoothening the quality of the skin
- Increase in the amount of collagen and hyaluronic acid which are prerequisites for good skin health.
Phytosterols are used in anti-ageing creams and sunscreen lotions, containing UV protection. As they have anti-inflammatory properties, they can be used to treat eczema, which is skin inflammation causing redness or itchiness. Moreover, it is also used to shield and protect the baby’s skin.
Apart from advocating skin health, it is also added to shampoos and conditioners which leads to velvety shine and smoothing of your hair.
Potential side effects of Phytosterols:
Before taking any phytosterol supplement, it is recommended to consult a doctor. Moreover, phytosterols are not to be taken if you have a genetic disorder or any disorder in that case which could cause a reaction. Although phytosterol supplements or the natural food products containing it cause no harm, there are some mild side-effects to its consumptions. Such as:
However, excessive consumption of phytosterol can lead to a spike in these side effects and even cause some severe problems:
Phytosterols may cause cardiovascular risks:
Although this might sound extremely contradictory, it is true. Phytosterols help in reducing your cholesterol levels and even reduce arterial stiffness especially in men, but there is not much evidence as to what effect a phytosterol has on your heart. As mentioned earlier, they are only useful for lowering your cholesterol levels. There is no such evidence regarding their ability to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke or even death.
In fact, some studies also depict that phytosterols can increase your risk of acquiring heart diseases. Moreover, other studies explained that high consumption of phytosterols can increase the chances of getting a heart attack. This situation is worsened if men are already suffering from heart disease as they have thrice more susceptible of getting a heart attack than the people who do not acquire phytosterols.
As per the studies conducted in animals, show that phytosterols can lead to plaque build-up in blood vessels and even shorten your lifespan as the chances of strokes and heart diseases increases.
Moreover, as mentioned earlier, if you have any genetic disorder such as sitosterolemia, which causes fat storage, you are not advised to consume phytosterols, as they can start clotting your blood and increase your chances of acquiring heart diseases.
Keeping in mind all these statistics, it is extremely recommended to consult a doctor before consuming phytosterols as it carries its own pros and cons, both equally deserving of heavy consideration.