If you tend to develop high cholesterol, you may be interested in supplements that help support overall cardiovascular health, especially those that keep LDL cholesterol levels in a healthy range. An example is a plant sterol called beta-sitosterol.
What is the effect of beta-sitosterol?
Scientific evidence suggests that diets that include plant sterols such as beta-sitosterol may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Phytosterols work by blocking the amount of cholesterol the body absorbs after ingesting them. While phytosterol supplements are a convenient option, you can also get these beneficial compounds by eating healthy foods like nuts, seeds, beans, and some oils.
What is beta-sitosterol?
Beta-Sitosterol (BS) is a phytosterol, which is a type of beneficial compound found in some plant foods. Specifically, it is a compound found in plants such as nuts, seeds, oils, and legumes that mimics cholesterol and may help lower levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood. It is consumed in food and also in supplement form, most popularly by those looking to lower LDL and total cholesterol levels and improve prostate health.
What is beta-sitosterol used for?
Since it is a phytosterol, also called a plant sterol or sterol ester, whose composition mimics the structure of cholesterol, it can help lower cholesterol naturally, and possibly the risk of heart disease. It is also sometimes used to help manage symptoms and other conditions, although there is currently less research to confirm that it works well for these purposes. For example, in some cases, it can be taken in supplement form to support prostate health and prevent allergies, asthma, gallbladder disease, tuberculosis, and joint and muscle pain.
Benefits of beta-sitosterol
The main benefits of beta-sitosterol:
1. May help lower bad cholesterol levels
One of the most common uses for BS supplements and the benefits of eating foods that contain beta-sitosterol is to reduce cholesterol absorption in the gut. This helps lower LDL, the “bad cholesterol” associated with an increased risk of heart diseases such as coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis. Studies show that people who maintain low levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in their blood tend to eat a diet that is not only low in total fat, especially saturated fat and cholesterol, but also relatively high in plant foods that contain dietary fiber and other ingredients.
How much should you eat to help balance cholesterol?
Experts recommend getting at least 2 grams of phytosterols per day from healthy foods, such as nuts and seeds, as well as getting regular exercise to support overall cardiovascular function. BS supplementation may also be recommended for people with hypercholesterolemia at doses greater than 200 mg/day. While phytosterols may help lower levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, they will not raise levels of “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. So it is always important to eat healthy fats as part of a balanced diet.
2. May help prevent prostate problems
BS is used to reduce symptoms associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate), which can cause problems with controlling and frequency of urination in men. It is thought to work by binding to the prostate to help reduce swelling and inflammation, which can cause discomfort and the urge to urinate. However, the exact mechanism of its action is not fully known. It is simply known to be associated with cholesterol metabolism and anti-inflammatory effects.
A 2000 Cochrane review aimed to evaluate the effects of beta-sitosterol on urinary symptoms and urine flow measurements in men with BPH, concluding that the evidence suggested that beta-sitosterol improved both, although it did not reduce actual prostate size. By the age of 60, more than 50% of men have benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and by age 85, 90% of men have the condition. Besides increasing the intake of plant sterols, other supplements that can help men with BPH include saw palmetto, pygeum, and lycopene.
3. May have immune-supporting and anti-cancer effects
Some evidence suggests that BS may be able to induce apoptosis (a cell of cancer cells) and inhibit the growth of certain types of human cancer cells, such as those that contribute to colon and breast cancer. It is not used alone as a cancer treatment but is seen as an adjunct to other medications and procedures. There is also limited evidence showing that it may help improve immune function, especially in athletes who do intense exercise.
Risks and side effects
Although BS is safe when taken with food and generally considered safe when taken in supplement form, it may cause side effects in some people, such as:
Beta-sitosterol is intended for use for a maximum of six months. Consult your doctor if you plan to take a supplement longer than this period. People who take medications to control their cholesterol levels should check with their doctor before starting a beta-sitosterol supplement, as beta-sitosterol may affect the way some cholesterol-lowering medications work. People with hereditary phytosterolemia, which causes hyperabsorption of phytosterols, should avoid BS supplements and consult with their doctor about how many foods containing phytosterols can be eaten safely.
Foods rich in beta-sitosterol
Phytosterols, including BS, are found in foods that contain naturally fats, such as nuts, seeds, avocados, and vegetable oils. Although these foods are low in fat, some legumes also contain beta-sitosterol.
Here are examples of some of the foods higher in beta-sitosterol:
– rapeseed oil
Vegetable oils made from nuts and seeds, such as soybean oil (which some experts don’t recommend as much as healthy oils like olive oil or avocado oil).
Vegetable oil dressing for salads
– wheat germ
Certain types of margarine and mayonnaise are made from vegetable oils.
Supplements and Dosage
In supplement form, BS is usually taken as a capsule orally, sometimes in divided doses several times a day. It comes as a white waxy powder that has an unpleasant odor at times. In addition to being a supplement, it is used as a food additive.
How much beta-sitosterol should you take?
Dosing recommendations vary depending on your current medical condition and the condition you’re treating. A typical adult dose is between 150 and 2,500 milligrams per day, with higher doses suggested for people with hereditary high cholesterol. It is considered safe for most people to take 800 mg/day for up to six months, which is the amount recommended for achieving cholesterol-lowering effects. Lower doses, about 150 mg/day, may be more effective in treating bladder and prostate problems.
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