Nutraceutical foods containing plant sterols and stanols, promising to lower cholesterol, are appearing on supermarket shelves in astounding numbers. Consumers can now find yogurts, salad dressings, breads, margarine, and even cookies with plant sterols. While plant sterols and stanols are found naturally in plants, they are concentrated to unnatural levels in common nutraceutical foods.
Though they have been found to reduce LDL cholesterol, the current major concern is that plant sterols may inhibit the absorption of beta-carotene, vit E, D, K, and other fat soluble nutrients. Also, the effectiveness seems to depend dramatically upon the type of food carrier. While certain products perform very well, including dairy, salad dressings, and margarine, other products such as orange juice, breads and chocolates do not. Individual response varies also, which are mainly genetic factors. They do not appear to interact with other cholesterol lowering medications, and have a synergistic effect when used in combination with statins. Studies have shown a 35% reduction in LDL and a 32% reduction in triglyceride levels when used in combination with medications. However, a few studies have raised concerns that excess levels of plant sterols may increase plaque formation and actually raise the risk of atherosclerosis (vascular disease) and a cardiac event. Long term use studies have not yet been conducted.
Until more conclusive research is done, stick to the current recommended amount of 2 - 3 grams per day, and no more!
~Nutrition Review, 2009