What are Phytosterols?

Phytosterols are a type of plant sterol that occur naturally in plants. They are similar in structure to cholesterol and can compete with cholesterol for absorption in the gut. Phytosterols have been shown to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and total cholesterol levels.

Foods that contain high levels of phytosterols include:

Nuts

Seeds

Vegetable oils

Legumes

Whole grains

You can also find phytosterols in some fortified foods, such as:

Margarine

Granola bars

Orange juice

Phytosterols may offer other health benefits beyond reducing cholesterol levels. Some research suggests that phytosterols may help to:

Reduce inflammation

Boost immunity

Help with weight loss

If you’re interested in adding phytosterols to your diet, talk to your doctor or registered dietitian first. They can help you determine if phytosterols are right for you and how to incorporate them into your eating plan.

Side Effects and Precautions of Phytosterols

Phytosterols are generally considered safe. Some people may experience gastrointestinal side effects, such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea, when they first start taking phytosterols. These side effects typically go away with time.

If you have a history of gallstones or are at risk for developing them, talk to your doctor before taking phytosterols. There’s some concern that phytosterols may increase the risk of gallstones in people who are susceptible to them.

It’s also important to note that phytosterols can interact with certain medications, such as cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins. If you take medication for high cholesterol or any other condition, talk to your doctor before taking phytosterols.

Dosage and Preparation of Phytosterols

There is no recommended dosage for phytosterols. Clinical studies have used dosages ranging from 2 grams per day to 3.4 grams per day. The best way to get phytosterols is through food sources.

If you decide to take a phytosterol supplement, look for a product that contains plant sterols or stanols esters. Be sure to read the label carefully so you know how much plant sterol or stanol is in each serving. Start with the lowest possible dose and increase gradually as needed.

Interactions

Phytosterols can interact with certain medications, such as:

Cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins, such as atorvastatin (Lipitor) and simvastatin (Zocor)

Blood pressure medications, such as ACE inhibitors

Immune-suppressing drugs, such as cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune)

Before taking phytosterols, talk to your doctor about any medications you’re taking.

It’s also important to note that phytosterols may interfere with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K. If you take a multivitamin or other supplement that contains fat-soluble vitamins, take it at least two hours before or after taking phytosterols.

To get the most benefit from phytosterols, it’s important to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Phytosterols won’t work if you don’t make other lifestyle changes as well.

If you’re interested in adding phytosterols to your diet, talk to your doctor or registered dietitian first. They can help you determine if phytosterols are right for you and how to incorporate them into your eating plan.

Phytosterols are generally considered safe. Some people may experience gastrointestinal side effects, such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea, when they first start taking phytosterols. These side effects typically go away with time.

Mechanism of Action

Phytosterols are structurally similar to cholesterol. When you eat foods that contain phytosterols, they compete with cholesterol for absorption in your intestine. As a result, less cholesterol is absorbed into your bloodstream.

Pharmacokinetics

After you eat foods containing phytosterols, they’re absorbed into your intestine and enter your bloodstream. Once in your bloodstream, phytosterols are transported to your liver. The liver then metabolizes phytosterols and excretes them in your stool.

Research suggests that it takes about three days for the effects of phytosterols to peak. After you stop taking phytosterols, their levels in your blood gradually return to normal.