What exactly is plant sterol?
Plant sterols are compounds that are present naturally and in small amounts in plants, or more precisely in the membrane of the cells of the plants, and they are similar to cholesterol. Due to that characteristic, they have the ability to lower the levels of cholesterol and thus reduce the chances of developing some heart related condition. Their mechanism of action is based on blocking the intestine from absorbing the cholesterol, which is why people are more than interested in using this compound as a dietary supplement. Since plant sterols have similar structure as animal cholesterol, they easily trick the body to digest them instead of animal cholesterol, which over time results in lower levels of LDL blood cholesterol. Consuming foods that contain plant sterols in higher amounts is also more than helpful, and such foods are nuts, flour, corn oil, soybeans, and wheat germs. More researches are to be done on its effectiveness and benefits, but the truth is that the number of those who use it and claim that it is more than helpful is constantly increasing.
Is it safe or not and what side effects are possible?
As for its safety, as long as it is taken in normal amounts, the use of plant sterol should not cause any problems, at least in the greatest majority of people. Still, there are those risk groups, when it is necessary to carefully consider the use of plant sterol. It particularly goes for people who suffer from sitosterolemia, allergy of any kind, vitamin deficiency (especially vitamin E and beta-carotene), or women who are either pregnant or lactating. Interaction may be caused if beta-carotene, or vitamin E is taken along with plant sterol, which is why it is recommended not to take them at the same time of the day.
Regarding the possible unwanted effects of plant sterol, they can be divided into those that are only bothersome, and those that are serious. Nausea, indigestion, and diarrhea are problems that can be classified as bothersome and not serious, while erectile dysfunction and decreased sex drive might occur, because plant sterols affect male hormones as well. These problems might be a bit more serious, but the fact is that they are really rarely present, and only in cases when enlarged prostate is treated with plant sterols, not when people try to lower cholesterol levels with it.