Before taking plant sterols, breastfeeding women should talk to their healthcare providers about the potential risks. It is not known whether plant sterol supplements are safe for breastfeeding women, since they may have some effects on hormones. Because there is probably little benefit of plant sterols for breastfeeding women, it is generally not recommended that pregnant women take plant sterol products.
An Overview of Plant Sterols and Breastfeeding
Plant sterols are plant-based compounds that are chemically similar to cholesterol. They are found in low amounts in various foods and are added to some dietary supplements and "functional foods" (such as butter spreads and orange juices designed to lower cholesterol). It is assumed that a normal intake of plant sterols (from unenhanced foods) is safe. It is not known if plant sterols (from dietary supplements or functional foods) are also safe for breastfeeding women.
Plant Sterols While Breastfeeding: What Does the Research Say?
There is no research to suggest that plant sterol products are safe (or unsafe) for breastfeeding women. Because plant sterols may have some effect on hormones, specifically testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT), there is reason to believe that it could potentially cause problems in a breastfeeding woman or her infant, especially if taken at high doses.
The only accepted medical uses of plant sterols are for high cholesterol and perhaps for an enlarged prostate, problems that are unlikely to occur in women of childbearing age. Since there is probably little benefit of plant sterols for breastfeeding women (and since the risks are not known), it is generally not recommended that pregnant women take plant sterol products.
Talking With Your Healthcare Provider About Plant Sterols and Breastfeeding
You should talk with your healthcare provider about plant sterols and breastfeeding. Each woman's situation is different, and you and your healthcare provider understand your situation best. After considering what you want and expect, as well as your current health situation, you and your healthcare provider can make a shared decision about plant sterols and breastfeeding that is right for you.
Written by/reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last reviewed by: KristiMonson, PharmD;
List of references (click here):
American Heart Association Nutrition Committee, Lichtenstein AH, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Diet and lifestyle recommendations revision 2006: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Circulation 2006;114(1):82-96.
Berger A, Jones PJ, Abumweis SS. Plant sterols: factors affecting their efficacy and safety as functional food ingredients. Lipids Health Dis 2004;3:5.
Food and Drug Administration, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. FDA talk paper: FDA authorizes new coronary heart disease health claim for plant sterol and plant stanol esters (9/5/2000). FDA Web site. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/ANSWERS/ANS01033.html. Accessed January 31, 2008.
Jellin JM, editor. Pharmacist's Letter/Prescriber's Letter Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Available at: http://naturaldatabase.com/. Accessed January 17, 2008.
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