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Lipids. 2003 Jul;38(7):713-21.

Effect of structure and form on the ability of plant sterols to inhibit cholesterol absorption in hamsters.

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Unilever Health Institute and Fat Technology and Oil Processing Group, Unilever Research, Vlaardingen, The Netherlands.


We investigated the effect of three types of plant sterols (4-desmethylsterols, 4,4'-dimethylsterols, and pentacyclic triterpene alcohols) in three forms (free, esterified with FA, or with phenolic acids) on cholesterol absorption. Plant sterol fractions derived from soybean (99% 4-desmethylsterols), rice bran (70% 4,4'-dimethylsterols), or shea nut (89% pentacyclic triterpene alcohols) were fed to male hamsters (n = 20/group) as free sterols or esterified with FA or phenolic acids (cinnamic or ferulic). Cholesterol absorption was measured after 5-8.5 (mean, 7) wk by a dual-isotope technique. Soybean sterol intake significantly reduced cholesterol absorption efficiency (23%) and plasma total cholesterol (11%). Rice bran sterols tended to lower cholesterol absorption efficiency by 7% and plasma total cholesterol by 5%, whereas shea nut sterols had no effect. In hamsters, dietary 4-desmethylsterols were more effective than 4,4'-dimethylsterols in lowering cholesterol absorption and levels of cholesterol in blood. Pentacyclic triterpene alcohols had no effect on the absorption of cholesterol or on its level in blood. Esterification with FA did not impair the ability of 4-desmethylsterols and 4,4'-dimethylsterols to inhibit cholesterol absorption, whereas esterification with phenolic acids reduced this ability. This study supports the use of 4-desmethylsterols, esterified with FA to increase solubility, as the most effective cholesterol-lowering plant sterols in the diet.

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