What does phytosterol do?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

Phytosterol is a type of plant sterol (steroid alcohol). It is a plant’s equivalent to cholesterol.


These days, phytosterols and other plant sterols are added to foods to help lower lousy (LDL) cholesterol levels which helps decrease your risk of developing heart disease.


Experts aren’t 100% sure yet how phytosterols lower cholesterol levels, but they think phytosterols prevent cholesterol from being absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract.


Although phytosterols may seem like the answer to your daily cholesterol-lowering medicines, keep in mind that studies are still being done to see how safe and effective these “natural” medicines really are. Until experts know more about how phytosterols work and how safe they are, don’t stop taking your cholesterol meds. Ask your doctor about phytosterols and other lifestyle changes you can make (like getting your 10,000 steps a day, no excuses) to help lower your cholesterol.

The herbal remedy phytosterol, also known as beta-sitosterol or plant sterol, has been used for a number of health conditions. This product comes in a variety of dosage forms, oral and topical. Research has found that phytosterol can be effective in lowering high cholesterol levels, but the evidence does not prove that it reduces the risk of heart disease. Results from some studies show that this herbal is probably effective for treating problems with urinating in men with enlarged prostates.
Applied to the skin, phytosterol can treat burns and sores. Phytosterol is also used for the conditions listed below. However, scientists aren't sure how effective phytosterol is in treating these problems.
  • allergies and asthma - bleeding disorders - boosting sexual performance
  • bronchitis - colon and cervical cancer - enhancing the immune system
  • fibromyalgia, lupus and chronic fatigue - fighting colds and flu
  • gallstones - headaches - heart disease - high cholesterol
  • HIV/AIDS - menopause - prostate health - reducing inflammation
  • skin disorders

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.