The side effects of plant sterols are not the detrimental kind and range from mild constipation to nausea, indigestion, etc. This article provides information regarding the same.
Sterols are waxy insoluble substances that are present in both plants as well as animals. Animal sterols are nothing but cholesterol while plant sterols or phytosterols are plant versions of cholesterol. They are compounds found naturally in the cell walls of plants and are present in small amounts in all kinds of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, etc.
Plant sterols are present in larger amounts in corn oil, sesame, and cotton oil. They help lower cholesterol levels, and thereby reduce the risk of heart diseases. They work primarily by blocking the absorption of cholesterol from the intestine. This helps lower the LDL cholesterol in the body. Plant-based foods contain small amounts of phytosterols; however, the interest in them has spearheaded their addition into dietary supplements and functional foods like margarines and spreads.
Today, we find marketers flaunting their sterol-fortified foods all the while praising the cholesterol-lowering properties of plant sterols. However, plants sterols are far from ‘new’. Being first discovered in 1922, scientists have been aware of their LDL cholesterol lowering properties since the 1950s. Normal intake of fruits and vegetables in our daily diet contribute to only small amounts of sterols, but for fighting cholesterol we need to consume quite a bit of them.
To bridge this gap between the recommended amount and the low quantity received from the daily diet, food chemists have come up with plant sterol supplements and foods fortified with plant sterol extracts. The American Heart Association (AHA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provide basic dosage guidelines for phytosterols; however, the sterol content varies from product to product. Hence, the recommended dose will depend on the kind of product you are consuming. Nevertheless, on an average, a daily intake of 1.5 to 2.0 grams of plant-based sterols in supplement form or incorporated in fortified foods has been shown to be effective for lowering the cholesterol levels. However, the best doses have not yet been established.
Over 80 studies conducted have shown no signs of any side effects when phytosterols are taken in appropriate amounts. However, when taken in high doses, certain mild side effects are seen to have occurred. The different side effects are:
- Erectile Dysfunction or Impotence
- Decreased sex drive
Since phytosterols are present in small amounts in fortified foods, it is not known to cause overdose. Facts pertaining to an overdose have not been studied in detail, so what dosage causes overdose is not very clear. People with sitosterolemia (a rare genetic condition), pregnant or breastfeeding women, and people with vitamin deficiencies should not take plant sterols. To avoid encountering the side effects, one should not take too much of phytosterol products just because they contain cholesterol lowering properties. Think of them as medicines and not foods while consuming as this can help you place a bar on your plant sterols consumption amount. Refrain from taking any products without consulting your health care provider.
Disclaimer: This NutriNeat article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.