Sterol: Benefits, Side Effects, Dosage, and Interactions

Sterols help lower cholesterol, treat cancer and prevent heart attacks.

Sterol supplement

Thanit Weerawan 

As a natural medicine, sterols can combat LDL (otherwise known as "bad") cholesterol, as well as help prevent heart disease and heart attacks. Sterols come from a group of substances made in plants and are a subgroup of steroids that play an important role inside your body, such as regulating biological processes and reinforcing the architecture of cell membranes. They look and act like cholesterol, and your body needs a certain amount of cholesterol to properly function.

You can find sterols naturally in foods such as nuts, grains, legumes, fruits, seeds, and oils. Because of their powerful health benefits, manufacturers also add them to processed food products such as margarine, cereal, and juices to make them more marketable to health-conscious consumers. 

Health Benefits 

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) gave sterols the “health claim” status because they are scientifically proven to provide health benefits. Because of such a claim, manufacturers can market any products containing sterols as "heart-healthy foods."

A few of the health benefits sterols include the following:

Lowering Cholesterol in Statin Users

In a systemic review and meta-analysis published in Scientific Reports, researchers found that people who took statins to reduce cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks, experienced significant reductions in total and LDL cholesterol levels when participating in a sterol-enriched diet than those who took statins alone. 

Lowering Cholesterol Metabolism

Sterols in moderate to high doses can positively alter entire-body cholesterol metabolism, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In a placebo-controlled trial, 18 adults received a sterol-deficient diet plus beverages supplemented with 0, 400 or 2,000 milligrams of sterols per day for four weeks. Results showed that those on moderate (an average of 459 milligrams) and high (2,000 milligrams) doses of sterols experienced a favorable impact on cholesterol metabolism.

Researchers stated that people can obtain a moderate sterol intake of 459 milligrams per day without needing supplementation as long as they follow a healthy diet. Meaning, you can lower your cholesterol by simply eating heart-healthy meals.

Lowering LDL Cholesterol

Drinking sterol-fortified juice can lower LDL levels, according to a study from the University of California Davis and published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. In this study, 72 healthy participants ages 20 to 73 with slight elevations in cholesterol levels were asked to follow their normal diet, but add a cup of juice with breakfast and dinner.

Half of the group drank a sterol-fortified orange juice and the other half drank non-fortified orange juice by the same manufacturer. Researchers took blood tests before and after eating to examine total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL and HDL cholesterol levels. Results showed that the group who drank the sterol-fortified orange juice experienced a 7.2% decrease in LDL cholesterol and a 7.8% decrease in non-high-density lipoprotein as compared to the regular orange juice-drinking group. 

Possible Side Effects

Consuming sterols is generally safe and is found to have little to no side effects. Some people experience diarrhea, especially if they consume an excess amount of sterols. Anyone with the following should watch their intake, however:

  • Pregnant
  • Nursing
  • Fat storage disease. If you have the fat-storage disease called sitosterolemia, sterols can build up in the blood and tissue and elevate your chances of a heart attack. 

Dosage and Preparation

The efficacy of sterols is so impactful that the National Cholesterol Education Program recommends people with high cholesterol eat at least two grams of sterols each day. Supplementation should occur only in individuals who need to lower their total and LDL cholesterol levels due to high cholesterol or are at risk of a cardiovascular event, according to the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. You should speak with your medical professional first before consuming a sterol until more long-term studies are performed to ensure supplements are safe for anyone to use. 

You shouldn’t use sterol-enhanced food to lower your cholesterol alone. Instead, eating a healthy diet, following an exercise program and avoiding smoking will provide more results than a sterol-heavy diet. 

What to Look For

Foods that contain sterols naturally include vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, but only in small amounts. To up your intake, look for "sterol" on the ingredient label. Often manufacturers will tout their heart-healthy foods in big fonts on the label, as the FDA allows them to do so.

You can also look on the label for sterol's other names:

  • Beta Sitosterin
  • Beta-sitosterol glycoside
  • Beta-sitosterol glucoside
  • Campesterol
  • Vegetable Sterol Esters
  • Sterinol
  • B-sitosterol 
  • Plant Sterolins
  • 24-ethyl-cholesterol

Foods often fortified with sterol include margarine, orange juice, milk, and bread. You also don't need to consume much to meet the daily requirements. A tablespoon of sterol-fortified margarine on a slice of sterol-enriched bread will provide the total amount needed for the day.

Other Questions

Does taking sterols lower the risk of heart disease?
Although evidence supports sterols as lowering LDL cholesterol levels, no studies show that sterols will reduce your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). You should follow a healthy lifestyle to best help prevent CHD.

What can you eat to get the best sterol-enriched diet possible?
You can try incorporating the following into your daily diet:

  • Wheat germ
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Beans
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Apples
  • Avocados
  • Cauliflower
  • Berries
  • Vegetable oils

Eating a variety of colors will provide you a healthy mix of necessary vitamins and minerals as well.

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Article Sources

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Devaraj S, Jialal I, and Vega-López S. Plant Sterol-Fortified Orange Juice Effectively Lowers Cholesterol Levels in Mildly Hypercholesterolemic Healthy Individuals. February 2004. 24:e25–e28. doi: 10.1161/01.ATV.0000120784.08823.99

  • Lichtenstein AH, Deckelbaum RJ. Stanol/Sterol Ester–Containing Foods and Blood Cholesterol Levels. The American Heart Association Nutrition Committee. Last updated February 2001.

  • Racette SB, Xiaobo L, Lefevre M, et al. Dose Effects of Dietary Phytosterols on Cholesterol Metabolism: a Controlled Feeding Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Jan; 91(1):32–38. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.28070

  • Shufen H, Jun J, Jiaying X, et al. Effects of Plant Stanol or Sterol-Enriched Diets on Lipid Profiles in Patients Treated with Statins: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sci Rep. 2016. 6:31337. doi: 10.1038/srep31337