Other Sterols

Fats and oils derived from plants contain a wide range of phytosterols, compounds structurally similar to cholesterol. The difference between

"O

Sitosterol

Stigmasterol

Campesterol Figure 7 Plant sterols.

Sitosterol

Stigmasterol phytosterols and cholesterol is related to their side chain configuration and/or steroid ring bond patterns. The most common dietary phytosterols are beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol (Figure 7). In contrast to cholesterol, phytosterols are only absorbed in trace amounts. For this reason, plant sterols have been used therapeutically to reduce plasma cholesterol levels. They compete with cholesterol for absorption; hence, they effectively reduce cholesterol absorption efficiency.

The absorption efficiency of cholesterol in humans ranges from approximately 40 to 60%. Because the relative absorption of plant sterols, however low, is correlated with the percentage of cholesterol absorbed in an individual, there is considerable interest in using circulating plant sterol concentrations as a surrogate marker for cholesterol absorption efficiency. Limited data suggest efficiency of cholesterol absorption may have a significant effect on lipopro-tein profiles and cardiovascular disease risk. Whether circulating phytosterols have an independent effect on cardiovascular disease risk is under investigation.

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