Do Plant Sterols Work?
Many people may wonder, "Do plant sterols work?" Although people take plant sterols for several reasons, research shows that these products are only effective for two uses at this time. They appear to be effective for lowering cholesterol, as well as for relieving the symptoms of an enlarged prostate (although plant sterols do not shrink the prostate).
Plant sterols are cholesterol-like compounds found in low amount in various foods. They are also used in dietary supplements and functional foods, such as margarine-like spreads designed to lower cholesterol. Like many dietary supplements, plant sterols are claimed to be useful for a wide variety of conditions, sometimes without any scientific evidence. People take plant sterols for the following uses:
- Lowering high cholesterol
- Treating an enlarged prostate (also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH)
- Treating the common cold and the flu
- Treating asthma
- Relieving menopause symptoms
- Treating gallstones
- Enhancing sexual performance
- Boosting the immune system
- Helping with hair loss or baldness.
Plant sterols are effective for lowering cholesterol -- and as a result, for reducing the risk of heart disease. Plant sterols lowers both LDL cholesterol ("bad cholesterol") and total cholesterol levels. In general, studies show that plant sterols (usually given in margarines or spreads) can lower LDL cholesterol about 5 to 15 percent and can lower total cholesterol by about 2 to 10 percent. Plant sterols do not have much effect on HDL ("good cholesterol").
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) allows certain plant sterol products to make a "health claim," stating that plant sterols can reduce the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) also recognizes that plant sterols help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Research has also suggested that some plant sterols may help relieve the symptoms of an enlarged prostate. In general, studies showed that beta-sitosterol (a plant sterol) may help relieve the urinary symptoms of an enlarged prostate but does not shrink the prostate.
There is not enough evidence to suggest that plant sterols are beneficial for any other use.