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Are Plant Sterols Safe?

Plant sterol products appear to be effective in treating high cholesterol, but are plant sterols safe? If you have a vitamin deficiency or sitosterolemia, let your healthcare provider know before using plant sterols, because problems could potentially occur. Also be sure to tell your healthcare provider about any medications you are taking to help prevent any negative drug interactions.

Are Plant Sterols Safe?

Plant sterols are beneficial compounds found in plants that are added to some dietary supplements and functional foods (such as margarines or spreads designed to lower cholesterol). Normal intake of plant sterols is safe for most people. However, you should talk with your healthcare provider prior to taking plant sterols if you have:
  • Sitosterolemia (phytosterolaemia), a rare genetic condition
  • A vitamin deficiency due to malabsorption digestive problems
  • Any allergies, including allergies to foods, dyes, or preservatives.
Also, let your healthcare provider know if you are:
  • Pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant
  • Breastfeeding.
You should also be sure to tell your healthcare provider about all other medicines you are taking, including prescription and non-prescription medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.

Specific Plant Sterol Safety Warnings and Precautions

Warnings and precautions to be aware of concerning the safety of plant sterols include the following:
  • Sitosterolemia (phytosterolaemia) is a rare genetic condition involving cholesterol and plant sterols. People with this condition have unusually high levels of plant sterols in the body and should avoid plant sterol products.
  • Plant sterols may decrease the absorption of some vitamins, particularly vitamin E and beta-carotene (a type of vitamin A). If you already have a vitamin deficiency, this could become a problem.
  • Plant sterols can interact with a few medications (see Plant Sterol Drug Interactions for more information).
  • It is not known if plant sterols (in the form of supplements or functional foods) are safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women (see Plant Sterols and Pregnancy and Plant Sterols and Breastfeeding).
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