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What is Beta-Sitosterol?

Dihydro-beta-sitosterol
Scientific Name: Stanol Other Names: 24-alpha-ethylcholestanol, 3-beta,5-alpha-stigmastan-3-ol, Beta-sitostanol, Fucostanol, Phytostanol, Plant Stanol, Plant Stanol Esters, Stigmastanol

Health benefits of beta-sitosterol:br> Stanol is taken to help prevent heart disease by lowering total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, the "bad" types of cholesterol that contribute to heart disease. It does not have a negative effect on HDL cholesterol, the "good" type of cholesterol that helps to protect against heart disease. Stanol can be used by itself or in combination with a low-fat diet and/or cholesterol-lowering drugs such as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, commonly called "statins". Some recent study results may show that long-term use of stanol may also help slightly to maintain the flexibility of blood vessels.

When should I be careful taking it?
Precautions:
Because no studies were done in pregnant or breast-feeding women, little is known about how stanol might affect a developing fetus or an infant. Therefore, high use of stanol is not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

What side effects should I watch for?
No clinically significant side effects have been reported from clinical studies or from general use in Finland, where foods containing stanol have been available since 1995. However, some participants in clinical studies of stanol experienced diarrhea.

What interactions should I watch for?
No interactions have been identified between stanol and prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs, other herbal products, or foods. However, stanol may have interactions that are not yet known. Individuals who experience unexplained side effects while taking stanol should stop taking it and call a doctor or pharmacist.

Taking stanol with cholesterol-lowering drugs (such as lovastatin, pravastatin, or simvastatin) or with dietary supplements (such as garlic, niacin, or oat bran) that also reduce cholesterol may result in a lower cholesterol level than would be achieved with either alone.

Some interactions between herbal products and medications can be more severe than others. The best way for you to avoid harmful interactions is to tell your doctor and/or pharmacist what medications you are currently taking, including any over-the-counter products, vitamins, and herbals. For specific information on how stanol interacts with drugs, other herbals, and foods and the severity of those interactions.

Should I take it?
Although plants do not contain cholesterol, they produce plant sterols, which have a structure very similar to cholesterol. Stanol is a plant sterol that is found in some tree oils (such as pine) and in some vegetable oils (such as canola and soy). Because stanol is not absorbed in the same way that cholesterol is, stanol interferes with the body's use of cholesterol--whether the cholesterol is produced by the body or eaten in foods.

When a modified form of stanol is taken by mouth, it blocks some of the spaces that cholesterol usually occupies in cells. Stanol may also affect the breakdown of cholesterol in the intestines. As a result of both effects, more cholesterol leaves the body and less is available to be absorbed.

Dosage and Administration:
Originally included only in butter substitutes, stanol is now used in many dairy products (cheese, milk, and yogurt) and in other foods such as salad dressings and snack bars. Although stanol-based foods have been available in Finland and other Scandinavian countries for over 10 years, they were introduced in the U.S. more recently. Foods that may provide exceptional health benefits are often called "functional foods" or "nutraceuticals". Capsules and tablets containing stanol are also available.

In clinical studies, participants with high cholesterol--including children younger than 2 years of age--took stanol doses ranging from 800 mg (0.8 gram) to 4000 mg (4 grams) daily. The results from the higher doses, however, were no better than doses of about 2000 mg (2 grams) per day for adults or about 1500 mg (1.5 grams) per day for children. No significant benefits were seen for children with normal cholesterol levels.

The time of day that doses were taken and the number of doses per day did not seem to have any significant bearing on the effectiveness of stanol. In studies, individuals who took one large dose per day were equally as likely to show beneficial changes in cholesterol levels as those who took smaller amounts of stanol two times or three times a day. About 12% of study participants did not show a response to stanol, but the average reduction in cholesterol from stanol alone was 10% to 15%. By comparison, diet changes typically lower cholesterol levels by about 10% and statin-type drugs generally lower LDL cholesterol by 20% to 45%.

Stanol takes 2 weeks to 3 weeks of daily use to reach its peak effectiveness. Clinical trials lasted one year with adults and 3 months with children, but the use of stanol products has been tracked for as long as 5 years in some individuals.

Summary:
Stanol is used to lower "bad" total and LDL cholesterol levels and to prevent heart disease.

Risks:
Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding should avoid using high amounts of stanol because little is known about stanol's effects on developing babies or nursing infants. Children should not use stanol for longer than 3 months unless a doctor supervises such use.

Side Effects:
Diarrhea may be caused by stanol.

Interactions:
No negative interactions have been attributed to the use of stanol. It may, however, increase the effectiveness of a low-cholesterol diet and cholesterol-lowering medications.

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