Plant sterols are a group of substances made in plants. Plant sterols are found in the highest amounts in foods like vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. Plant sterols are used as medicine.
Plant sterols are taken by mouth to lower cholesterol levels and help prevent heart disease and heart attacks. Plant sterols are also used for some cancers such as stomach cancer, colon cancer, and rectal cancer. Plant sterols are also used for weight loss.
In foods, plant sterols are added to some types of margarine. The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows manufacturers to claim that foods containing plant sterol esters can help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). This rule is based on the FDA's conclusion that plant sterol esters may reduce the risk of CHD by lowering blood cholesterol levels. There is plenty of evidence that plant sterols do lower cholesterol levels. But there is no proof that long-term use actually lowers the risk of developing CHD.
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 it works
Plant sterols are a group of plant substances that resemble cholesterol. They might help reduce cholesterol levels by limiting the amount of cholesterol that is able to enter the body. Some plant sterols might also reduce how much cholesterol is made in the body.
Likely EffectiveReducing cholesterol levels in people with an inherited tendency toward 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.
Taking plant sterols significantly lowers total and "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) 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 (one of the "statins," such as pravastatin (Pravachol) or simvastatin (Zocor), plant sterols reduces total cholesterol by an additional 12 mg/dL and LDL cholesterol by another 11 mg/dL. Plant sterols may work best in people whose bodies make a lot of cholesterol.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.
Plant sterols are LIKELY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth. They can cause some side effects, such as diarrhea or fat in the stool.
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of plant sterols duringpregnancyandbreast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.Are there any interactions with medications?
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.
Taking pravastatin (Pravachol) might decrease how much plant sterols are in the body. This might decrease the effectiveness of plant sterols.