Phytosterols, commonly consumed to reduce cholesterol levels, may
also “potentially prevent cancer development”, according to a new review
of all the science.
The ingredients may work via the traditional route of reducing cholesterol, particularly in the membrane of cancer cells, and by activating an enzyme called caspase which is known to play an essential role in programmed cell death (apoptosis).
The reviews findings are published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The Manitoba-based researchers “critically examine results from recent research regarding the potential effects and mechanisms of action of phytosterols on forms of cancer”.
According to emerging evidence, the phytosterols have shown potential in inhibiting cancers of the stomach, lung, ovaries, and breasts.
Commenting on the mechanism, Peter Jones and his colleagues stated that phytosterols may be linked to increased activity of caspase enzymes. This is achieved by the sterols being incorporated into the cell membranes, resulting in changes to the structure and function of the membranes. These changes ultimately result in an activation of caspase enzymes, said the researchers.
A second potential mechanism could also involve the sterols ‘traditional’ modus operandi of reducing blood cholesterol. “High blood cholesterol level and hence the concentration of cholesterol in lipid rafts of cell membranes are associated with reduced apoptosis of cancer cells,” they said.
“Hence, phytosterols could be incorporated in diet not only to lower the cardiovascular disease risk, but also to potentially prevent cancer development,” they concluded.
Source: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Volume 63, Pages 813-820, doi:10.1038/ejcn.2009.29
“Anticancer effects of phytosterols”
Authors: T.A. Woyengo, V.R. Ramprasath, P.J.H. Jones