Since the amount of DHT in the body can be decreased by plant sterols, pregnancy problems could potentially occur if a pregnant woman uses plant sterol products. DHT is important for male genital development, which means that plant sterols may cause abnormalities of the external genitals of a male fetus. Talk to your healthcare provider about plant sterols and pregnancy to further discuss the risks.
An Overview of Plant Sterols and Pregnancy
Plant sterols are cholesterol-like compounds found in low amounts in many plant-based foods. They are also used in some dietary supplements and added to "functional foods" (such as margarine-like spreads or juices designed to lower cholesterol). Although a normal intake of plant sterols through a healthy diet is considered safe, foods or supplements with added plant sterols are not usually recommended for pregnant women.
Are Plant Sterols Safe During Pregnancy?
There is no evidence that plant sterol products are safe (or unsafe) for pregnant women. Theoretically, plant sterols could cause problems based on their effects on certain hormones. Plant sterols may block the conversion of testosterone into DHT (dihydrotestosterone), thereby decreasing the amount of DHT in the body. Since DHT is important for male genital development, taking high doses of plant sterols during pregnancy could theoretically cause problems, such as abnormalities of the external genitals of a male fetus. However, this has not yet been shown to be a problem, and it is likely that large doses would be necessary to produce such effects.
If you are pregnant, it is always a good idea to have a discussion with your healthcare provider before taking any medication or supplement (or even functional food), including plant sterol products. 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 the full risks are not currently known and since there is probably little benefit of plant sterols for pregnant women, it is generally not recommended that pregnant women take plant sterol products.
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.
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