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This may come as something of a surprise to many of my readers...but I’ve been putting nearly all of my patients on steroids for most of my four decades of alternative medicine practice.  In fact, I like steroids so much that I eat large quantities of them myself! 

After all, any well-intentioned doctor should be willing to follow the advice he gives others, wouldn’t you say?

But I’m not talking about the ‘steroids’ body builders to take to pump up their muscles. I mean the phytosterols or steroids found in plants.  They are similar to cholesterol in structure and behavior.  These unique molecules occur in whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and herbs.

  • Whole Grains:

    Whole grains are those which are milled in their entirety; all but the husks are retained.  Brown rice, oatmeal, and whole wheat contain all of their phytosterols because they haven’t been refined.

  • Legumes:

    Legumes include a variety of beans and peas: black beans, black-eyes peas, garbanzo beans, great northern beans, kidney beans, lentils, navy beans, peanuts, pinto beans, soybeans, and split peas.  They are especially high in phytosterols.

  • Nuts & Seeds:

    Want to keep your heart healthy?  Then munch on any of these nuts and seeds: pistachios, walnuts, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and whole flaxseeds.  They are exceptionally rich in plant sterols.

  • Fruits:

    Fruits containing phytosterols include apricots, cantaloupes, guava, kiwi, papaya, peaches, plums, apples, bananas, pears, and watermelon, among others.

  • Vegetables:

    There is a large array of vegetables containing varying amounts of plant steroids that should be incorporated into the diet regularly to keep your heart free of plaque buildup: bamboo shoots, bok choy, bean sprouts, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, green peas, lettuce, mushrooms, okra, peppers, potatoes, seaweed, snow peas, sweet potatoes, water chestnuts, and winter squash.

Speeds metabolism, burns fat, suppresses appetite and blocks carbs

Herbal Steroids

Certain herbs with medicinal and nutritive benefits to them rank at the very top in terms of their phytosterol qualities.  This is because their naturally-occurring steroids are often linked with other biochemical constituents that make them superior to food-derived phytosterol sources.

A case in point would be alfalfa: One of the most studied of all herbs; it has roughly 3% total phytosterol content which is closely bonded to certain alkaloids (stachydrine and homostachydrine).  Not only do the phytosterols prevent an increase in plasma cholesterol as would be expected, but the alkaloid side is strongly antimicrobial to prevent infection and hypoglycemic to prevent and treat diabetes.

Another example would be Garcinia cambogia: This much-talked about spice from India is a natural weight loss aid.  Besides containing two (beta-sitosterol and stigamasterol) of the three most abundant phytosterols (the other one being campesterol), it’s also loaded with hydroxycitric acid (HCA).  This double-teaming of two plant steroids and HCA exerts a triple effect on your e body, all of which helps your heart:

  • (A) “Bad” cholesterol and triglycerides are lowered.
  • (B) There is an evident loss of stored fat due to its enhanced metabolic conversion into energy.
  • (C) There is a noticeable reduction in appetite!

Other medicinal herbs containing plant steroids are as follows:

Damiana beta-sitostero
Devil’s Claw beta-sitosterol and stigmasterol
Licorice Root beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol, and 22, 23-dihydrostigmasterol
Sarsaparilla Root sarsasapogenin, smilagenin, sitosterol, stigmasterol, and pollinastanol
Saw Palmetto beta-sitosterol, beta-sitosterol 3-0-beta-D-glucoside, campesterol, stigmasterol, lupeol, 24-methylene-cycloartanol, hexacosanol, and l-octacosanol

sarsasapogenin and tigogenin

(A.Y. Leung and S. Foster.  Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics (2nd Ed.)
(New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996; and B.B. Aggarwal and D. Yost.  Healing Spices (London: Sterling Publishing, 2011.)

Clinical Study A fairly recent study sought to determine whether cholesterol-lowering effects could be achieved with smaller doses of phytosterols.

The experiment was a highly controlled feeding trial in which participants consumed phytosterols-deficient diets plus supplemental beverages providing 1, 400, or 2,000 mgs of phytosterols per day.  All participants rotated through the three 4-week treatment conditions in randomized order, with 1 week between treatments.

Under each tested condition, intestinal cholesterol absorption and fecal cholesterol excretion was measured.  The researchers found that both moderate and high intakes of phytosterols significantly increased fecal cholesterol excretion, with the higher dose eliciting a greater effect.

In addition, high phytosterol intake significantly reduced LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and a non-significant trend was observed for moderate intake.

In summary, although supplemental sources of plant sterols produce the greatest effect, even moderate phytosterol intake – such as that obtained from a diet rich in plant-based foods – provides cholesterol-lowering effects in humans.

(Adapted from: S.B. Racette, et al.  “Dose effects of dietary phytosterols on cholesterol metabolism: a controlled feeding study.”  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, November 2009.)

Good Food Sources of Phytosterols

If you’d like to incorporate more phytosterols into your diet I’ve listed the best food sources below:

Foods Serving Size Phytosterols (mgs)
Wheat germ ½ cup 237
Sesame seeds  1 ounce 113
Corn oil   1 Tablespoon 102
Canola oil  1 Tablespoon 92
Pistachios 1 ounce 79
Almonds 1 ounce 56
Peanut butter 2 Tablespoons 47
Brussel sprouts ½ cup 34
Ground flaxseed 2 Tablespoons 26
Cauliflower ½ cup 25
Olive oil   1 Tablespoon 22

How They Help Your Heart

In 2001, the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), a branch of the National Institutes of Health, issued a new set of guidelines for cholesterol management with an explanation of how phytosterols work to help keep your heart healthy.  The following is a synthesis of their information.

  • LDL (“bad”) cholesterol is like the lime in hard water that builds up inside household plumbing.  LDL cholesterol promotes accumulation of cholesterol in the arteries feeding your heart and brain.
  • Phytosterols remove these thick, hard deposits (plaques) that clog the arteries and cause them to narrow (atherosclerosis), thereby decreasing your risks of heart attack, stroke, and dementia.

Essentially, phytosterols block your body from taking up too much cholesterol from food and slow production of cholesterol in your liver.