Cholesterol doesn’t just circulate in our blood. It’s also present in our digestive system. Some of this comes from the cholesterol contained in the food we eat, such as eggs, shellfish, meat and dairy products. Most of cholesterol in digestive system comes from the bile solution, which is made in the liver, stored in the gallbladder and released when food leaves our stomach and enters the small intestine.
The bile solution contains bile acids, which are produced from cholesterol in the liver. These bile acids are crucial in the digestion of dietary fats and oils. Bile acids, digested fat and fat-soluble components, like cholesterol are packed into small droplets called mixed micelles, which are kind of water-soluble “transport capsules”.
These mixed micelles are attached to the small intestinal wall and fat and cholesterol are taken up by absorptive cells. After this, part of the bile acids is excreted in faeces, while most of it is recycled back to the liver.
On average 50 % of the cholesterol entering the digestive tract is absorbed. But when plant stanols – the active ingredient in Benecol foods – are present in sufficient quantities (1.5g -3.0g plant stanols a day) only 20% of cholesterol is absorbed. This in turn lowers the LDL or the ‘bad’ cholesterol in our blood.