Beta-Sitosterol: An Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Cholesterol Plant Extract
Beta-sitosterol is a primary plant sterol. This class of compounds is molecularly similar to cholesterol and may inhibit cholesterol’s absorption in the lower intestine and reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood. Phytosterols have also been shown to act in synergy with red yeast rice by achieving a therapeutic effect at a lower dose.
In effect, beta-sitosterol acts as a potent dietary cholesterol blocker. A significant body of clinical evidence has demonstrated its cholesterol-lowering effects. In a 2005 study, researchers gave 29 individuals with high cholesterol (40-80 years old, average age = 55; 14 with type 2 diabetes) an edible beta-sitosterol spread.20 Both diabetic and non-diabetic patients experienced a greater reduction in LDL—27% and 15% respectively—than controls.
A meta-analysis of 14 randomized controlled trials investigated the effects of plant sterols added to margarine on cholesterol levels.21 The sterol-fortified margarine caused a reduction in the mean concentration of LDL, an effect that tended to increase with age.
The results of two older beta-sitosterol studies further indicate it can decrease systemic inflammation. In one meta-analysis, the lead investigator noted that beta-sitosterol appears to support proliferation of peripheral blood lymphocytes and enhance the cytotoxic effect of natural killer cells.22 Another study that measured inflammation and immune suppression in marathon runners found that beta-sitosterol could help prevent immune system suppression and could reduce bodily inflammation.23 Together, these anti-inflammatory properties led researchers to suggest that beta-sitosterol might be of clinical use in treating a number of chronic inflammatory conditions that could lead to cancers of the breast and colon.
Policosanol is a naturally occurring component of beeswax and whole sugar cane. More than 80 studies performed mostly by a single research institute suggest that policosanol obtained from Cuban sugar cane at doses of 5-40 mg/dL exerts cholesterol-lowering effects equivalent to that of statin drugs.24,25 (It should be noted that other research groups using policosanol from alternative sources have failed to reproduce the efficacy of these alcohols observed in earlier studies.)26
Numerous animal models studies have been conducted using policosanol. One study found that pretreatment with policosanol and omega-3 fatty acids prevented arterial wall thickening and endothelial damage in animals whose arteries had been damaged artificially.27
Some research suggests that policosanol is effective in lowering cholesterol in patients with progressive atherosclerosis and diabetes. One study tested policosanol in patients suffering ischemic stroke who were also treated with aspirin and vitamins. They achieved substantially positive results, with improvements in neurological outcomes and recurrent events.28
Niacin’s ability to lower LDL, raise HDL, and lower triglyceride levels has been conclusively established by a wealth of clinical research.29 It is one of the best-known and most widely used vitamins for lowering blood cholesterol levels. It has also been shown in multiple studies to provide better heart health protection than some statins. A widely publicized study appearing last November in the New England Journal of Medicine found that niacin was more effective at shrinking artery plaque than a billion-dollar blockbuster called ezetimibe, the active ingredient in the cholesterol drugs Zetia® and Vytorin®.30
Recent studies further indicate that niacin reduces oxidative stress and inhibits vascular inflammatory genes, including key cytokines involved in atherosclerosis.29,31,32 Until recently, niacin’s general use and widespread patient tolerability have been impeded by the need to take it 4 times a day and by the high incidence of skin flushing, gastric problems, and other adverse events.
A form of “no-flush” niacin has emerged, called inositol hexaniacinate (IHN).33 It consists of six molecules of nicotinic acid (niacin) and one molecule of inositol. It is metabolized in the body into its component parts, niacin and inositol, and does not reach maximum blood levels for approximately 10 hours after ingestion. This form of the vitamin has not been linked with the skin “flushing” or other typical niacin reactions, even when ingested in amounts typically associated with skin flushing, nausea, vomiting, and agitation. Regrettably, it also does not work as well as niacin in reducing LDL and triglycerides and boosting HDL.
Statin drugs are heavily used and over-prescribed, owing to industry influence and misinformation. High-dose statins are often unnecessary, and may not be the right choice for millions of people, given their side effect profile. Studies indicate that any reduced cardiovascular risk from taking statins may be offset by other serious side effects, from sexual, visual, hepatic, renal, and cognitive dysfunction to disability and death. Aging individuals who want to lower their blood lipid levels and C-reactive protein (CRP) number may be able to achieve similar benefits with standardized red yeast rice extract, beta-sitosterol, pantethine, policosanol, and niacin. These synergistic ingredients have been shown to reduce blood lipid levels while promoting healthy endothelial function and reducing CRP and systemic inflammation. They offer a safer alternative to taking synthetic prescription statins.
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