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  • Sterols, also known as steroid alcohols, are a subgroup of the steroids and an important class of organic molecules. They occur naturally in plants, animals, and fungi, with the most familiar type of animal sterol being cholesterol. Cholesterol is vital to cellular function, and a precursor to fat-soluble vitamins and steroid hormones.
  • Sterols of plants are called phytosterols and sterols of animals are called zoosterols. Important zoosterols are cholesterol; notable phytosterols include campesterol, sitosterol, and stigmasterol.
  • Ergosterol is a sterol present in the cell membrane of fungi, where it serves a role similar to cholesterol in animal cells.
  • Sterols and related compounds play essential roles in the physiology of eukaryotic organisms. For example, cholesterol forms part of the cellular membrane in animals, where it affects the cell membrane's fluidity and serves as secondary messenger in developmental signaling.
  • In humans and other animals, corticosteroids, such as cortisol act as signaling compounds in cellular communication and general metabolism.
  • Plant sterols and stanols are naturally occurring substances found in plants. They are present in small quantities in many fruits, vegetables, vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, cereals and legumes. Very high doses of sterols have been reported to cause occasional constipation or diarrhea. High doses have also been shown to reduce cholesterol.
  • Sterols may be found either as free sterols, acylated (sterol esters), alkylated (steryl alkyl ethers), sulfated (sterol sulfate), or linked to a glycoside moiety (steryl glycosides) which can be itself acylated (acylated sterol glycosides).
  • Sterol biosynthesis is nearly ubiquitous among eukaryotes, it is almost completely absent in prokaryotes. They are not found in Archaea and the proven occurrences in bacteria are sparsely distributed and yield a limited array of products.  "The US market is one of the last major markets to get on this wave."
  • After hovering in the $50-55 million range in 2001-03, ACNielsen pegged the total market for products with plant sterol claims sold through FDM channels at $66 million in 2004 and $93 million for the year ended August 2005 up 28 per cent and 41 per cent, respectively.

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