Plant sterols are most commonly used for lowering cholesterol levels. Plant sterols are also used for other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these other uses.
In foods, plant sterols are added to some types of margarine.
Don't confuse plant sterols with beta-sitosterol. Beta-sitosterol is one type of plant sterol. However, it also has its own uses. Also don't confuse plant sterols with sitostanol. Sitostanol is a plant stanol.
How does it work ?
Uses & Effectiveness ?
Likely Effective for
- Inherited tendency towards high cholesterol (familial hypercholesterolemia). Plant sterols are effective for reducing cholesterol levels in children and adults with high cholesterol levels due to familial hypercholesterolemia. When taken in people who are also following a low-fat or cholesterol-lowering diet, plant sterols can reduce total and "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol more than the diet alone. Plant sterols don't decrease blood fats called triglycerides or increase "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels.
- High cholesterol. Taking plant sterols lowers total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol levels by about 3% to 15% in people with high cholesterol who are following a cholesterol-lowering diet. When added to a cholesterol-lowering prescription medication, such as certain "statins", plant sterols reduce total cholesterol by an additional 12-22 mg/dL and LDL cholesterol by another 11-16 mg/dL.
Plant sterols can be incorporated in margarines, dairy products, and breads and cereals, or taken in pill form. Research suggests a dose of about 2-3 grams daily lowers cholesterol the most. But plant sterols may stop working as well when taken for more than 2-3 months. Plant sterols don't raise "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels.
Possibly Effective for
Insufficient Evidence for
- Colon cancer, rectal cancer. People who eat more plant sterols as part of their diet don't have a lower risk of colon cancer compared to people who eat less plant sterols. Also women who eat more plant sterols don't have a lower risk of rectal cancer compared to women who eat less plant sterols. But men who eat more plant sterols might have a lower risk of rectal cancer compared to men who eat less plant sterols.
- Stomach cancer. People who eat at least 82.5 mg of plant sterols daily as part of their diet seem to have a lower risk of gastric cancer compared to people who eat less than 45.5 mg daily.
- A grouping of symptoms that increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke (metabolic syndrome). Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that increase the risk of having heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. These conditions include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and excess fat. Some research shows that taking 2 grams of plant sterols twice daily reduces cholesterol levels in people with metabolic syndrome. But other research shows that taking 2 grams of plant sterols once daily does not lower cholesterol levels in people with metabolic syndrome.
- Heart attack. Men who eat more plant sterols as part of their diet have a 29% lower risk of having a heart attack compared to men who eat less. But women who eat more plant sterols don't seem to have a lower risk of having a heart attack compared to women who eat less.
- Obesity. Early research shows that eating a snack bar containing 1.8 grams of plant sterols lowers total cholesterol levels by about 10% compared to eating the snack bar alone in people who are obese and trying to lose weight. But eating the snack bar containing plant sterols doesn't increase weight loss, reduce "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, or improve blood sugar levels compared to eating a snack bar that doesn't contain plant sterols.
- Heart disease (cardiovascular disease or CVD).
- Heart disease (coronary heart disease or CHD).
- Other conditions.
Special Precautions and Warnings
Children: Plant sterols are LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth. They can cause some side effects, such as diarrhea or fat in the stool.
Sitosterolemia, a rare inherited fat storage disease: Plant sterols can build up in the blood and tissue of people with this condition. This build-up can make these people prone to early heart disease. Taking plant sterols might make this condition worse. Don't take plant sterols if you have sitosterolemia.
Short bowel syndrome, a condition related to removal of part of the gut: Worsening of liver function has been reported for a person with short bowel syndrome who was given nutrients containing plant sterols. Liver function improved when the plant sterols were removed from the nutrients. It's not clear if the plant sterols were responsible. Until more is known, don't take plant sterols if you have short bowel syndrome.
We currently have no information for PLANT STEROLS overview.
- For heart disease: Foods that contain at least 3.4 grams of plant sterols daily, as part of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet.
- For inherited tendency towards high cholesterol (familial hypercholesterolemia): 1.6-1.8 grams of plant sterols per day for 8-26 weeks have been used.
- For high cholesterol: Doses of about 2-3 grams daily seem to work the best.
- For inherited tendency towards high cholesterol (familial hypercholesterolemia): 1.6-2.3 grams of plant sterols per day have been used in children 6-16 years-old.
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