Beta-sitosterol, a plant chemical known as a sterol, is abundant in corn oil, pumpkin seeds, saw palmetto, wheat germ and soybeans. Though chemically similar to cholesterol (which is found only in animals), beta-sitosterol and other plant sterols don’t have the same artery-clogging effects as cholesterol -- and can even help lower cholesterol levels in the blood. In Europe, beta-sitosterol is commonly used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), a condition that causes prostate enlargement and frequent and painful urination in men.
Uses: Usually, to improve prostate health. Some people take it in attempts to prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol.
Dose: For prostate enlargement, 20 to 130 milligrams three times a day with meals, in capsule or tablet form. Less is known about the dose needed to reduce cholesterol.
Precautions: Beta-sitosterol may cause indigestion, constipation, gas, diarrhea or impotence. It may also interfere with the absorption of vitamin E, beta carotene and other nutrients. Not much is known about long-term safety.
Research: Lab studies suggest beta-sitosterol may have anti-inflammatory effects and be toxic to cancer cells. The plant sterol also appears to lower cholesterol by blocking its absorption, but very high doses may be needed to achieve a measurable effect. Several human studies have shown that the supplement can improve urological symptoms in men with BPH, though it does not reduce the size of the prostate gland and its efficacy appears to depend on the type of beta-sitosterol preparation used. Further studies are needed to examine the supplement’s overall efficacy and long-term safety.
Dietary supplement makers are not required by the U.S. government to demonstrate that their products are safe or effective. Ask your healthcare provider for advice on selecting a brand.