A recent study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry discovered an ingredient found in many plants that can drastically improve osteoporosis.
Strangely, however, it’s important to not consume too much of this ingredient. That will eliminate all of the health benefits.
The research team set up an experiment using mice. They induced osteoporosis in these mice using glucocorticoids – a type of steroid.
The mice were then treated with either a low or high dose of phytosterols for four weeks. The low dose was 0.3 mg/mL (milligram per milliliter), and the high dose was 0.5 mg/mL.
After the four weeks, the team checked the bone health of the mice. Here’s where it gets interesting:
1. Mice that received the low dose of phytosterols showed improvements in their bone health. Their bone mass increased, the intricate networks (or ‘microstructure’) inside their bones improved, and they had healthier levels of markers of bone health in their blood.
2. Strangely, the mice that received the high dose didn’t show any of these benefits.
To ensure these findings weren’t a fluke, the researchers tested the low dose of phytosterols on another group of mice with osteoporosis induced by another method (ovary removal). They obtained the same results.
The scientists hypothesized that phytosterols exercised their beneficial effects through their influence on gut bacteria. We all have billions of bacteria living in our intestines, playing a role in our health. Some are healthy, while others are known to be harmful.
When they tested the bacteria in the mice’s feces, they found that the phytosterols restored balance in the gut by increasing the number of beneficial bacteria, such as Ruminococcus, and decreasing potentially detrimental species, like Bilophila.
Upon further testing, they noticed that these changes in the gut bacteria were directly linked to the improvements in bone health.
Therefore, a specific dose of phytosterols can improve bone health by balancing our gut bacteria. However, the exact amount seems crucial – too little and there’s no effect, too much, and the benefits disappear.
Phytosterols are natural substances found in plant membranes. They are structurally similar to the cholesterol found in our bodies, but instead of being derived from animal sources, they come from plants.
The healthiest sources of these chemicals are canola oil, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, and whole grains.
However, if you consume foods that are artificially fortified with phytosterols, such as margarine, yogurts, and other milk products, you might end up consuming too high a quantity to reap the benefits.
The sweet spot is around 1,500 milligrams of phytosterols per day, which can easily be obtained from normal food sources.