How to use plant stanols to reduce your cholesterol levels after cancer
High cholesterols levels are quite common in the UK. You may be surprised to hear that 60% of adults in the England have high cholesterol levels (according to Public Health England) so it affects quite a few of us.
I regularly receive questions about cholesterol after cancer treatment and the ways to reduce this, so this article will explore whether plant stanols & sterols could be helpful.
What is cholesterol?
First of all, let’s talk about what is cholesterol. Cholesterol is a blood fat and it actually has some important uses in the body- did you know it’s needed to make some hormones, Vitamin D & bile salts?
These all are vital functions but we only need a small amount for this use. High cholesterol levels may increase your risk of heart disease so we need to keep our levels healthy.
If you have a blood test to check your cholesterol levels you will see a level for your total cholesterol, LDL and HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and also your ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol (TC:HDL ratio). They may include another blood fat called ‘triycerides’ too.
What about plant stanols and sterols?
If you are thinking about your cholesterol levels after cancer you may have heard of Plant stanols and sterols.
Plant stanols are found naturally in plant foods especially in wheat and rye products, however our usual diet only contains small amounts so unlikely to have an effect on cholesterol levels. There are a number of products you can buy in the supermarket that contains added plant stanols and sterols. They have been added to yoghurts, drinks, margarine spreads, even milks from various brands like Benecol, Flora Proactive and supermarket own versions.
How do plant stanols and sterols work?
Plant stanols and sterols can lower cholesterol by reducing the absorption of cholesterol in the gut. There is a bit of variation from person to person in their effect on your cholesterol levels, but generally using plant stanols & sterols can reduce your LDL-cholesterol levels by 7.5-12%. They can also work with cholesterol lowering medication like statins and of course a healthy diet.
How much do I need to reduce my cholesterol level?
The evidence suggests that you need 1.5-3g of plant sterols and sterols to have the cholesterol lowering effect.
To get the daily 2g serving this is usually provided by:
1 yoghurt or yoghurt drink a day
The spreads and milk tend to contain smaller amounts of stanols & sterols so you may need 2-3 portions a day of the following:
One portion is two teaspoons (10g) of fortified spread
One portion is one glass (250mls) fortified milk
What are the top tips to optimise the effect of plant stanols and sterols?
3 top tips if you are going to try plant stanols & sterols
1. Take your chosen plant stanols & sterol WITH FOOD
e.g yoghurt drink with your breakfast, yoghurt with lunch or dinner, or use the spread and milk as part of your meals. They are most effective when taken with food.
2. Try for at least 2-3 weeks
The cholesterol lowering effect can be seen in your blood results in 2-3 weeks
3. Take them daily
The cholesterol lowering effect of plant stanols and sterols will only last when you are using the product and stop when you discontinue.
What about plant stanol and sterol supplements?
There are some supplements tablets that you can take which contain plant stanols and sterols however the evidence is limited in this source. They would also need to be taken with meals to have an effect.
So are plant stanols and sterols the answer for healthy cholesterol levels?
The big negative to these products are that they can be quite expensive and can't be used by the whole family (e.g. children or those without high cholesterol levels). So it’s worth remembering that these products do not replace a healthy diet. There is a lot of evidence that improving your diet so it contains more fruit and vegetables, wholegrain and pulses, less salt can also have a big effect you’re your heart health and cholesterol (see this post for more info).
Plant stanol and sterols can be a great addition to your diet and also be taken with prescribed cholesterol lowering medications like statins too.
If you would like to build your healthy diet plan to improve your heart health after cancer get in touch
Disclaimer: always talk to a healthcare professional if you are worried about your cholesterol levels
Macmillan Heart health and cancer: https://www.macmillan.org.uk/cancer-information-and-support/impacts-of-cancer/heart-health
The BDA Plant stanols and Sterols fact sheet: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/food-facts-plant-stanols-and-sterols.html
BNF: High Cholesterol-symptoms, causes & levels