Beta-sitosterol is one of several plant-derived substances known as phytosterols . Phytosterols are similar in structure to cholesterol and can help reduce the risk of heart disease when consumed in large amounts. The richest sources of phytosterols are vegetable oils and their products. Nuts, seeds, and legumes also contain phytosterols .
In addition to food sources, beta-sitosterol is sold in supplement form to treat high cholesterol and a variety of other conditions. Despite its ability to lower "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, there is only limited evidence that it can prevent or treat certain diseases.
Alternative practitioners believe that beta-sitosterol can treat a wide variety of conditions, including allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, gallstones, migraines, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and menstrual irregularities. Additionally, beta-sitosterol is believed to prevent heart disease and some forms of cancer (including prostate cancer and colon cancer).
Despite significant gaps in clinical research, several small studies have pointed to the potential benefits of using beta-sitosterol.
Beta-sitosterol can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by lowering LDL cholesterol in the blood .
By increasing dietary intake, beta-sitosterol effectively competes with animal cholesterol for intestinal absorption. Over time, this can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), a condition that contributes to heart attack and stroke.
Research has consistently shown that consuming 2 grams of phytosterols per day can lower LDL cholesterol levels by 8 to 10 percent.
Consuming less than 1.3 grams of phytosterols per day does not reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) .
Also, while beta-sitosterol supplementation may help reduce the risk of heart disease, there is no indication that supplementation can do so without other interventions, such as a reduced-fat diet and exercise routine.
Benign prostatic hyperplasia
Beta-sitosterol can help treat an enlarged bladder, also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH .
Higher doses failed to improve these results. Although beta-sitosterol cannot directly treat BPH, it can be used in combination with traditional medications for men with decreased urination and difficulty urinating.
Beta-sitosterol supplements are often touted for their cancer-fighting properties. Most of the evidence supporting these claims is based on test tube studies.
Beta-sitosterol isolated from tropical milkweed ( Asclepias curassavica ) inhibited the growth of human colon cancer cells, according to a 2010 study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine .
Also, a 2003 study published in Oncology Reports found that beta-sitosterol induces apoptosis in breast cancer cells. Apoptosis, a type of programmed cell death, is the key to stopping the spread of cancer cells .
None of this suggests that beta-sitosterol has a direct effect on cancer cells. Rather, it suggests a possible way to develop anticancer drugs in the future.
Possible side effects.
Beta-sitosterol is considered safe when used at recommended doses for up to six months. Side effects can include nausea, upset stomach, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. Less commonly, beta-sitosterol is associated with erectile dysfunction and decreased libido.
Beta-sitosterol should not be used in people with a rare genetic disorder known as sitosterolemia, in which beta-sitosterol and other fats accumulate abnormally in the blood. Taking beta-sitosterol supplements in these conditions can actually increase your risk of heart attack.
Beta-sitosterol can interact with pravol (pravastatin) and zetia (ezetimibe), which are used to lower blood cholesterol levels. Taking any of these medications can reduce the effectiveness of beta-sitosterol.
Due to the lack of safety studies, beta-sitosterol should not be used in children, pregnant women, or nursing mothers. To avoid unexpected side effects or interactions, talk to your doctor before taking a beta-sitosterol supplement.
Dosage and preparation
There are no universal guidelines governing the proper use of beta-sitosterol supplements. Supplements typically come in capsule, tablet, or softgel form in doses ranging from 60 to 500 milligrams (mg).
A dose of 800 mg or more per day, divided and taken before meals, has been used safely in people with high cholesterol. In contrast , a dose of no more than 130 mg per day may be sufficient to stimulate urination in men with BPH. …
Beta-sitosterol supplements, widely available for purchase online, are sold in many health food stores and food supplement stores.
What to look for
Dietary supplements are largely unregulated in the United States. As a result, the content and / or concentration of active ingredients may differ from brand to brand. To best ensure safety and quality, choose supplements that have been tested and certified by an independent certification body such as the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF International .
Beta-sitosterol supplements are stable at room temperature, but can degrade rapidly when exposed to excessive heat or ultraviolet light. Always store supplements in their original light-sensitive container, ideally in a cool, dry place.
Do I need a beta-sisoterol supplement?
Generally speaking, it is always better to get micronutrients from food rather than supplements. Some foods that are especially high in beta-sitosterol include:
- Canola oil: 96 mg per tablespoon.
- Avocado: 95 mg per cup
- Pistachios (raw): 71 mg per cup
- Almonds (raw): 46 mg per cup
- Broad beans (fresh): 41 mg per cup
- Soybean oil: 39 mg per tablespoon.
- Hazelnuts: 34 mg per cup
- Walnuts: 33 mg per cup
- Pink lentils: 27 mg per cup
On the other hand, if you can't control your cholesterol levels despite taking the right steps (such as diet and exercise), talk to your doctor to see if a beta-sitosterol supplement could help. If your cholesterol levels are about to heal, it might be worth a try.
However, if your cholesterol is consistently high, your healthcare provider may prescribe statins instead of dietary supplements.
Frequently asked questions
They seem to be safe for most men who take them for BPH. However, in some people, they can cause an upset stomach. You should first check with your healthcare provider to make sure the symptoms you are having are not related to another medical condition that requires different treatment.
There is some research showing that testosterone levels increased in men who took saw palmetto fortified with beta-sitosterol compared to a control group, but information on the association is still limited and more research is needed.