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Phytosterols, also known as plant sterols, are cholesterol-like molecules found in plants, such as whole grains, fruits, legumes and vegetables. These plant-derived substances lower cholesterol in as little as one to two weeks by preventing LDL cholesterol absorption in the intestine. You’re best off getting phytosterols from food sources, but when you simply can’t do so, taking supplements may seem like a good way to receive these healthy benefits. Should you take this supplement? Experts on the Cleveland Clinic Prescriptive Wellness Committee weigh in on the pros and cons:
On the Pro Side: Tanya Edwards, MD, a family physician at the Cleveland Clinic, recommends this supplement because it lowers both total and LDL cholesterol on average by about 10 percent. There’s also good evidence, she points out, that combining phytosterols with the omega-3 DHA can lower LDL cholesterol while improving HDL (good) cholesterol levels and lowering triglycerides. Phytosterols have an excellent safety profile and relatively few side effects.
On the Con Side: Even though it reduces LDL cholesterol, there are no long-term outcomes showing that it actually lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease, says Brenda Powell, MD, of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. She adds that the overall effect of phytosterols on cholesterol levels is mild, which means that other therapies may be required to meet individual goals for reducing cholesterol levels.
As for the evidence for phystosterols, Dr. Powell points out that studies used phytosterols in margarine-like spreads, and it is not clear whether capsules containing phytosterols will have the same benefit.
On top of that, there are some side effects worth noting, including the possibility of bloating, diarrhea or constipation.
Committee Conclusion: Experts on the Cleveland Clinic Prescriptive Wellness Committee conclude that phytosterols are a safe and effective product for lowering total and LDL cholesterol levels. A typical dosage is one to two grams taken twice daily with meals. The doctors recommend that you work with your medical provider to make sure that cholesterol levels meet your own unique targets based on your specific medical conditions.
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