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Sterols present in plants are referred to as phytosterols and are present in small quantities in numerous fruits and vegetables. Sterols are similar in structure to the cholesterol present in animal cells.
However, sterols offer better benefits than the cholesterol obtained from animal cells and are proven to reduce the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol in the body. It is now being proposed that sterols have the potential to stabilize the immune system and protect one from numerous diseases and health conditions. It is believed that sterols, along with improvement in cholesterol levels also help prevent many infections.

The immune system performs a wide range of functions that as a whole help in preventing infections and diseases in the human body. Supplementations of various plant products have been associated with an improvement in function in the immune system. Plant sterols which were initially being promoted for benefits on serum blood cholesterol levels are now being researched and studied for the effects on the human immune system.

The T-lymphocytes have a number of associated cells that are grouped as T-helper cells to aid in the function of identifying and destroying harmful microorganisms and their toxic products. These T-helper cells have been reported to fight directly against the viruses and other microorganisms to prevent the occurrence of infections. Further, T-cells may also act against cancer cells and prevent progression and spreading. Studies have reported that nutrients such as plant sterols do have an influence on the number and function of such helper cells that are quite essential for the prevention of infections.Proper regulation of immune cells is important in enhancing the actions of the immune system while protecting the body against autoimmune reactions and responses.

Sterols Benefits on the Immune System and Medical Studies

One of the benefits of regulation of the immune system was noted in patients suffering from asthma. In a research study conducted by Dr. A.L. Miller, a United States physician evaluated the benefits of a wide range of therapies for asthma patients. Asthma results from the abnormal increase in the response of the immune system to minor stimuli. Administration of plant sterols were noted to regulate the actions of the T-helper cells, thereby reducing the release of several chemicals (histamines) responsible for the inflammation of cells of the lungs and the throat. Dr. Miller concludes that the administration of plant sterols does have an effect on the immune system and can be used as additional mode of therapy while treating individuals suffering from asthma.

A compound produced from a combination of plant sterols was tested on individuals suffering from HIV infection in South Africa. HIV is known for its suppression on the immune system and the study demonstrated promising results. The administration of sterol compounds was notably associated with an increase in the T-cell counts along with other benefits such as improvement in general health, decrease in the number of viruses present in the body, weight gain and reduction in skin irritations.

The results obtained from these studies have confirmed the effects of sterols on the immune system. Therefore, it can be concluded that plant sterols may boost the immune system and protect the body against infections and other disorders.

  • 1. Kidd P. Th1/Th2 balance: the hypothesis, its limitations, and implications for health and disease. Altern Med Rev. 2003 Aug, 8(3):223-46
  • 2. Miller AL. The etiologies, pathophysiology, and alternative/complementary treatment of asthma. Altern Med Rev. 2001 Feb, 6(1):20-47
  • 3. Knight VC. A boost for the immune system. AIDS Anal Afr. 1997 Jan, 7(4):1
  • Photo courtesy of Daniella Segura by Flickr :