Beta-sitosterol is an organic substance naturally occurring in a variety of foods such as peanuts, flaxseed, olive oil, soy and several vegetables and fruits. Moreover, it is found in almost all seeds and nuts. This organic substance is also present in the form of dietary supplement. Beta-sitosterol is categorized as a phytosterol, which is a class of compounds that are akin to cholesterol. Chemists have dubbed beta-sitosterol a plant sterol ester. Since it possesses a number of therapeutic properties, beta-sitosterol is also utilized for making medications.

It has been found that beta-sitosterol is highly useful for the human health. Its use helps to endorse healthy cholesterol as well as triglyceride levels. In addition, the effect of beta-sitosterol is remarkably positive in supporting the health of the prostate.

Health benefits

Oral ingestion of beta-sitosterol reduces the total as well as bad (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels significantly. However, this substance does not help in increasing the levels of good (high density lipoprotein) cholesterol.

Beta-sitosterol is beneficial for people suffering from problems in urinating owing to an enlarged prostate, also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Such non-malignant, enlarged prostate can cause irritative and obstructive symptoms in the lower urinary tract. Nearly all men who are aged above 60 years are believed to be suffering from symptoms related to the urinary tract that are attributed to benign prostatic hyperplasia. In most countries, therapeutic use of different herbs and plants to treat the symptoms related to BPH has been growing steadily over the years. It has been seen that almost one-fourth of men who endured and were treated for BPH for symptoms related to their urinary tract problems have tried using phytotherapeutic agents. In such cases, using beta-sitosterol is useful in alleviating the BPH symptoms.

It is worth mentioning here that beta-sitosterol is basically a plant-based substance akin to cholesterol. This substance may aid in lowering the levels of bad cholesterol (low density lipoprotein) by restricting the cholesterol amount that can get into our body. At the same time, beta-sitosterol also possesses the aptitude to attach to the prostate, thereby help in diminishing the swelling or inflammation of the prostate.

Beta-sitosterol aids in reducing incidents of waking up at night owing to continuous urge to urinate. This also helps to enhance flow of urine and encourages healthy functioning of the urinary tract. Moreover, it has been found that beta-sitosterol is also useful in getting rid of symptoms related to enlarged prostate. In fact, several prostate supplements available commercially contain Pygeum africanum, saw palmetto, stinging nettles, pumpkin seed oil and several other plant-based compounds. Actually, all these ingredients have one common aspect - beta-sitosterol. Hence, it can be assumed that beta-sitosterol is useful in treating the above-discussed health conditions.

Researchers and the medical community are of the view that beta-sitosterol may also be effectual in treating tuberculosis (TB). Some people have even reported that they have experienced better and dense hair growth after they used beta-sitosterol along with saw palmetto. In addition, there is some proof that using beta-sitosterol as well as berberine ointment to treat second degree burns works as good as the common treatment for burns as silver sulfadiazine.

It is worth mentioning that beta-sitosterol is also used for treating high cholesterol and heart disease. This organic compound is also employed to perk up the immune system as well as to prevent development of colon cancer. Other therapeutic uses of beta-sitosterol include its use for treating asthma, bronchitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, common cold and influenza, allergies, fibromyalgia, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), HIV/AIDS, cervical cancer, psoriasis and even conditions like migraine headache and hair loss.

A number of women use beta-sitosterol for treating symptoms related to menopause. Moreover, this organic compound is also used for boosting libido or sexual activity. Sometimes, marathon runners also use beta-sitosterol with a view to alleviate pain as well as swelling after they take part in a run. There are other people who apply this plant-based compound topically onto their skin to treat various wounds and burn injuries.

It has been established that use of beta-sitosterol possesses immuno-modulatory results. Preliminary studies have demonstrated that beta-sitosterol possesses the aptitude to augment the propagation of peripheral blood lymphocytes and, at the same time, improve the cytotoxic outcome of the natural killer cells. Additional research showed that this organic compound also possesses anti-inflammatory properties. This has resulted in assumptions that beta-sitosterol can be an effective treatment for checking chronic inflammatory diseases.

Extreme physical strain, like what is seen in the case of marathon runners, can result in delicate immunosuppression. Such a condition may be partly a result of the fact that it upsets homeostasis or the usual physiological balance, including that of our immune system. Compared to placebo, administering beta-sitosterol can help to put off total leukocytosis, lymphopenia and typical neutrophilia.

In vitro, it has been found that beta-sitosterol has some effects on the tumour cell lines. During these experiments, beta-sitosterol was found to slow down growths in human prostate, colon and even in breast cancer cells. It is assumed that this organic substance triggers apoptosis or cell death, perhaps by activating the protein phosphatase A2 trail.

It has been found that beta-sitosterol has also demonstrated that it possesses the aptitude to regularize the blood sugar levels as well as the levels of insulin in people suffering from type II diabetes by encouraging the discharge of insulin when there is a concentration of non-stimulatory glucose. At the same time, it inhibits glucose-6-phosphatase.

In the human liver, the enzyme called glucose-6-phophatase is the main conduit for converting ingested carbohydrate into blood sugar within the human liver. Glucose-6-hposphatase works to dephosphorylate this enzyme to generate free D-glucose. Subsequently, D-glucose is taken up by our blood stream, thereby raising the levels of blood sugar.

As far as foods are concerned, people add beta-sitosterol to a few margarines that are meant for use in special diets that help to lower bad cholesterol as well as to put off development of heart disease. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permits manufacturers to claim that foods enclosing plant sterol esters like beta-sitosterol are effective for lowering the risks of developing coronary heart disease (CHD). This statute is founded on the conclusion of the Food and Drug Administration that consuming plant sterol ester my lower the chances of developing CHD, as these sterols aid in bringing down the levels of bad cholesterol (low density lipoprotein) in our system. While there is lot of scientific support that says using beta-sitosterol helps to bring down the levels of bad cholesterol in the blood stream, there is no evidence that using this substance for a prolonged period really works to reduce the chances of developing coronary heart disease.

It is strongly advisable that one should not mistake beta-sitosterol for sitostanol, which is a similar compound that is present in a product called Benecol. In fact, beta-sitosterol and sitostanol are both used for reducing the levels of bad cholesterol (low density lipoprotein) in people suffering from high cholesterol. It has been found that both these compounds are equally effectual in treating the condition.

Side effects and cautions

Elevated concentrations of beta-sitosterol in the blood stream have been directly related to enhanced relentlessness of heart disease in people who have already endured heart attacks.

When taken orally, beta-sitosterol is most probably safe for use for most people. However, its oral intake may result in a few adverse side effects like gas, indigestion, nausea, constipation or diarrhea. In addition, beta-sitosterol has been associated with reports of loss of libido (diminished sexual craving) and erectile dysfunction (ED). Possibly, beta-sitosterol is safer when it is applied topically to the skin.

Although beta-sitosterol is generally considered to be safe for most people who have not experienced heart diseases, there is no scientific evidence about its effect when used by pregnant women and nursing mothers. Hence, it is advisable that women should stay away from this substance during pregnancy and breast-feeding.

Sitosterolemia is a rare disease which is inherited and caused by excessive fat storage. People enduring this health condition suffer from excessive beta-sitosterol as well as other related fats in their body. Such people are very vulnerable to developing heart disease early in their lives. In fact, when people suffering from sitosterolemia take beta-sitosterol their condition aggravates further. Hence, it is strongly recommended that people with sitosterolemia should take care to refrain from using beta-sitosterol.