You can find bioactive compounds in both plant and animal products; they are molecular compounds that have an effect on a living organism, tissue or cell.1 Bioactive compounds can also be manufactured synthetically and are an ingredient in different forms in a range of dietary and herbal supplements.
Bioactive compounds differ to essential nutrients in that they can be hugely beneficial but are not vital to the primary functioning of the human body.2
Plant bioactive compounds are produced by the plant to perform a particular secondary function, often that of protection or defence and are known as secondary metabolites. Protection and defence are also what many plant bioactive compounds can provide in terms of the human body and promoting health. Some secondary metabolites are tasked in helping the plant to obtain essential nutrients, which often means that plants abundant in bioactive compounds are also a high source of essential nutrients and are therefore the most useful in terms of human health.3 Research indicates that this diverse group of phytonutrients can really help to keep our immune system working properly; improve certain health issues, and could also play a pivotal part in reducing the risk of disease.
Phytosterols are a special kind of bioactive compound; essentially fatty acid esters found in plants with a molecular structure much the same to cholesterol. There are over 200 different identified phytosterols; such as beta sitosterol, brassicasterol, campersterol and sigmasterol. These prized plant bioactive compounds are so special because they work in the intestine to lower the absorption of cholesterol and dietary fats. Phytosterols work by acting as competition for the cholesterol, blocking its absorption of dietary cholesterol through the digestive tract. Consumed cholesterol in the gut is bound to bile acids. Sterols competitively interact with the bile acid and displace the cholesterol. By preventing cholesterol’s entry into the bloodstream, it reduces the chance of depositing it ectopically and causing disease. Instead it is just lost through waste. The aim is to reduce the number of active low density lipoproteins (LDL), considered “bad cholesterol”. So it’s clear to see how phytosterols are on our side and can help us to maintain a happy, healthy heart. In addition to this, phytosterols have been highlighted as being beneficial to prostate health;4 can help replenish and restore the skin;5 could have anti-oxidation; anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-atherogenicity,capabilities,6 Phytosterols in our diet can actually improve the activity of immune cell function while also preventing the activity of the cells that cause inflammation and chronic disease.7
Sources of Phytosterols
The richest natural sources of phytosterols include vegetable oils, nuts and nut oils, seeds, whole-grains, flour and various types of beans, such as soy and black bean. Eating fruits and vegetables, such as asparagus, tomatoes and oranges are also a way to boost phytosterol intake8
It can, however, be hard to ensure we’re getting a good amount of phytosterols in our diet. It can be tricky for the body to absorb plant sterols from the foods we eat, though some research shows that phytosterols are bioactive at doses as low as 150 mg which is good news in terms of our body’s ability to glean some goodness out of these plant derivatives.9 Also passive oxidation due to storing, freezing or cooking food can affect the presence of phytosterols in foods such as fruits and vegetables, lessening their bioactivity.
Plant Sterols Powder
Plant sterols is basically another name for phytosterols. Supplementing our diets with phytosterols is thought to be a sensible and effective way to increase our intake of phytosterols. Taking a dietary supplement such as plant sterols powder could help lessen the risk of coronary heart disease, along with the other possible health benefits phytosterols have been praised for. Studies have shown that taking a plant sterols supplement can “effectively reduce LDL-cholesterol...and the smaller amounts in natural foods also appear to be important.”10 An extra intake of Phytosterols has been shown to be particularly useful for those who have a high cholesterol absorption and low cholesterol biosynthesis. These bioactive compounds fight to lower the risk of some real biggies in terms of our health including high cholesterol hypertension; coronary heart disease; stroke; and heart attacks. It’s thought that by consuming just 1.5 to 2.4 grams of Plant Sterols a day it can reduce blood cholesterol by as much as 7-10.5% in two to three weeks. Our everyday diets contain around 300mg of Plant Sterols, but vegetarian diets contain almost twice as much.11 The European register of nutrition and health claims confirms that consuming Plant Sterols on a regular basis in the correct doses will help to reduce risk and severity of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). It's recommended that consuming the upper limit of 2.5-3.0g per day can lead to a 10-12.5% decrease in cholesterol in just two to three weeks.
Plant Sterols Powder Specifics
The benefit of using plant sterols in a powder form is that it can be added to food and beverages. Oxford Vitality offer a variety of 25-1000g of the product to satisfy your nutritional needs. We include four different types of plant sterol in our plant sterols powder; brassicasterol, campersterol, stigmasterol and sitosterol; 12 of which sitosterol and campesterol are the most abundant sterols in plants and consumed most commonly in the human diet.13
It’s advisable to take Phytosterol supplements with meals that contain healthy fats, such as avocado; coconut and extra virgin olive oil; fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, trout and mackerel; nuts and chia seeds, to increase their bioavailability.
Plant sterols have been shown to have the ability to potentially decrease the effect of carotenoids.14 To combat this it’s a good idea to eat more food naturally rich in carotenoids, such as sweet potatoes, kale and apricots and perhaps boosting this intake with a dietary supplement that can provide the body with a regular and concentrated source of carotenoids, such as Sage Leaf Tablets,15 Rosehip Tablets 16 or Lutein Tablets.17 Studies have shown that by increasing our carotenoid consumption the effects of plant sterols on carotenoids are counteracted.18 It’s good to know that Phytosterol intake does not reduce food vitamin and essential nutrient absorption.19
It’s time to get wise
We can do our bit by making sure we have a diet containing foods rich in phytosterols and enriching this with a supplement such as plant sterols powder can significantly increase our intake of phytosterols; while working in partnership with the plant sterols we absorb from natural food sources. These plant-based bioactive compounds have been proven to hold a host of health benefits, particularly in maintaining heart health and should be included as an important dietary component.
1 Medical Definition of Bioactive: MedicineNet 14 June 2012. http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/srchcont.asp?src=compound+medical+definition
6 Plant sterols: factors affecting their efficacy and safety as functional food ingredients. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC419367/
7 Plant Sterols and Sterolins: A Review of Their Immune-Modulating Properties Patrick J.D. Bouic, PhD and Johan H. Lamprecht, MD. Retrieved from: http://www.anaturalhealingcenter.com/documents/Thorne/articles/PlantSterolsandSterolins.pdf
8 ‘Phytosterol-deficient and high-phytosterol diets developed for controlled feeding studies’ Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2833354/
11 Phytosterols as Functional Food Components and Nutraceuticals, edited by Paresh C. Dutta
‘Plant sterols: factors affecting their efficacy and safety as functional food ingredients’Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC419367/
18 ‘Plant sterols: factors affecting their efficacy and safety as functional food ingredients’Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC419367/