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Effects of phytosterol consumption

High cholesterol levels can lead to adverse health effects. Investigators have investigated if some dietary supplements from plants used for lowering cholesterol levels may have other effects on human health.
Effects of phytosterol consumption
Phytosterols, plant compounds similar in structure to cholesterol, decrease cholesterol absorption in the small intestine likely due to competition. They are often recommended as part of a heart-healthy eating plan. However, there are few studies of the fate of unabsorbed phytosterols that pass through the intestines and colon. The EU-funded project 'Gastro-intestinal behaviour of phytosterols and enzymatic modification thereof' (GIST) investigated these issues.

Scientists developed a novel assay to detect and identify phytosterols and their metabolites based on ultra-high performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC). Solid phase extraction (SPE) was used as it consistently recovered 70–80 % of phytosterols. Atmospheric pressure photoionisation (APPI) was used to ionise the test sample molecules prior to analysis by TOF mass spectroscopy (MS). MS is used to identify compounds based on their molecular weights.

Stigmasterol, a type of phytosterol, was incubated with bacteria from the intestine. Analysis with the newly developed UHPLC–APPI–MS technique demonstrated only the presence of undigested stigmasterol. Surprisingly, the presence of the phytosterols decreased the metabolic activity of the microbes as demonstrated by reduced lipid metabolites (short chain fatty acids). Further research is necessary to address potential hazardous effects on human health.

GIST set out to investigate the stability of phytosterols and assess the potential negative impacts on human health. Scientists discovered a decrease in the metabolic activity of gut-associated microbes in the presence of phytosterols. Further investigation is required to determine whether the cholesterol-lowering benefits outweigh any potential negative effects of decreased gut-microbial activity due to phytosterols consumption.

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