What are phytosterols?
Phytosterols are compounds that occur in plants and are similar to that of cholesterol found in animals. These compounds entail plant sterols and stanols that are collectively known as phytosteroids. There are no double bonds in the sterol ring structure. Consequently, sterols are saturated compounds. On the other hand, stanols are saturated sterol compounds. Identification of more than 200 sterols and related compounds has been done. Insolubility in water, relative insolubility in oil and solubility in alcohol are some of the solubility characteristics reflecting the properties of phytosterols extracted from oil.
Superiority of phytosterols:
Phytosterols have found significant projection in the food industries as they are rampantly employed as dietary supplements. Although, phytosterols have been preferably used as dietary components, there are no scientific evidences yet to prove the beneficiary quotient of phytosterols in terms of reducing the intensity of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) or the overall mortality quotient. However, they possess the effective capability of reducing LDL cholesterol.
Structural variations and the subsequent compounds formed:
The structure of phytosterols is in a way that it could be modified in various ways to obtain various compounds. The modifications made generally involve the removal of carbon and hydrogen atoms. They are also modified by the hydrogenation of double bonds between carbon atoms and also by the esterification of the hydroxyl groups. The various compounds obtained encompass sterol esters, stigmasterol, campestanol, brassicasterol, ergosterol, lupeol cholesterol, campesterol and β-sitostanol.
Phytosterols as dietary supplements:
Vegetable oils and the products made from them are rich sources of phytosterols. Nuts contain phytosterols as well. Although, they are consumed in small quantities, they still furnish significant contribution to total phytosterol intake. Phytosterols can be either in the form of esters of fatty acid or esters of cinnamic acid. Most of the times, they are in free form. They are also in the form of glycosides. Pancreatic enzymes in the small intestines aid in the hydrolyzing of phytosterols in its bound form. The various other sources of phytosterols entail vegetables, fruits, cereal products and berries. Although these sources furnish phytosterols in lesser significant amounts, they are preferably used due to the fact that the increase in intake of these food items could have considerable impact on the total phytosterol intake. The routine consumption of naturally occurring phytosterols varies with respect to the pattern of food habits observed among people. New experimental vegetarian diets have been designed to enhance the content of phytosterols present. The most rampant phytosterols present in day-to-day human routine diet are campesterol, stigmasterol and β-sitosterol.