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Prog Lipid Res. 2002 Nov;41(6):457-500.

Phytosterols, phytostanols, and their conjugates in foods: structural diversity, quantitative analysis, and health-promoting uses.

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Crop Conversion Science and Technology Research Unit, Eastern Regional Research Center, United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, 600 East Mermaid Lane, Wyndmoor, PA 19038, USA.


Phytosterols (plant sterols) are triterpenes that are important structural components of plant membranes, and free phytosterols serve to stabilize phospholipid bilayers in plant cell membranes just as cholesterol does in animal cell membranes. Most phytosterols contain 28 or 29 carbons and one or two carbon-carbon double bonds, typically one in the sterol nucleus and sometimes a second in the alkyl side chain. Phytostanols are a fully-saturated subgroup of phytosterols (contain no double bonds). Phytostanols occur in trace levels in many plant species and they occur in high levels in tissues of only in a few cereal species. Phytosterols can be converted to phytostanols by chemical hydrogenation. More than 200 different types of phytosterols have been reported in plant species. In addition to the free form, phytosterols occur as four types of "conjugates," in which the 3beta-OH group is esterified to a fatty acid or a hydroxycinnamic acid, or glycosylated with a hexose (usually glucose) or a 6-fatty-acyl hexose. The most popular methods for phytosterol analysis involve hydrolysis of the esters (and sometimes the glycosides) and capillary GLC of the total phytosterols, either in the free form or as TMS or acetylated derivatives. Several alternative methods have been reported for analysis of free phytosterols and intact phytosteryl conjugates. Phytosterols and phytostanols have received much attention in the last five years because of their cholesterol-lowering properties. Early phytosterol-enriched products contained free phytosterols and relatively large dosages were required to significantly lower serum cholesterol. In the last several years two spreads, one containing phytostanyl fatty-acid esters and the other phytosteryl fatty-acid esters, have been commercialized and were shown to significantly lower serum cholesterol at dosages of 1-3 g per day. The popularity of these products has caused the medical and biochemical community to focus much attention on phytosterols and consequently research activity on phytosterols has increased dramatically.

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