Beta-Sitosterol May Be Part of The Heart Health Solution
If the term “beta-sitosterol” leads you to imagine a strange chemical found in a pill for some obscure health condition, your presumption could not be farther from the truth! Beta-sitosterol is actually a plant sterol that is common in the majority of food plants, and it is one of the main subcomponents found in a group of plant sterols referred to as phytosterols. And it may just have an impact on your heart health due to a chemical structure that is very similar to that of cholesterol. Foods such as wheat germ, corn oils, rice bran, and soybeans have high beta-sitosterol levels. Unfortunately, the average American tends to lack beta-sitosterol in their diet.
Why Do We Need Beta-Sitosterol?
Beta-sitosterol may help those with a variety of conditions, but it is probably best known for its assistance with cholesterol and subsequent heart conditions, as well as for its use in managing prostate issues.
Aid in Cholesterol Control
Several studies indicate that beta-sitosterol may help your body lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. It does not, however, show any indications thus far of lowering your body’s levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. Beta-sitosterol helps to reduce cholesterol absorption in the intestines. The result is that much less is available to circulate throughout your bloodstream, and therefore, it does less damage. The excess that is not absorbed is excreted by natural means.
Aid to Prostate Health
Numerous studies indicate that beta-sitosterol may help alleviate difficulty in urination due to an enlarged prostate. It appears to do this by playing a role in blocking the production of dihydrotestosterone, thereby decreasing prostate cell growth.
Possible Cancer Fighter
Studies also indicate that beta-sitosterol may help reduce the growth and spread of cancer in the prostate. However, these studies were conducted on animals and there is no confirmation as to whether there is any benefit to humans with prostate cancer.
When it comes to colon and breast cancer, research is more promising. A 2010 study indicates that beta-sitosterol may help inhibit human colon cancer cell growth. A 2003 study found that the substance may help destroy breast cancer cells.
Immune and Inflammation Modulator
Beta-sitosterol plays a role in modulating your immune function, inflammation, and the experience of pain. Your body’s production of inflammatory cytokines is related to the interaction between your immune cells and the adrenal glands, your body’s main producer of cortisol. Increased cortisol production under stress tends to suppress your immune system, in turn affecting your body’s inflammatory response. Beta-sitosterol may help normalize your body’s response to stress by normalizing your body’s stress hormone – cortisol production – while encouraging the production of anabolic hormones that help your body rebuild itself such as testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
Possible Blood Sugar Stabilizer
Studies indicate that beta-sitosterol may be beneficial for those with type-2 diabetes or who are prediabetic. There are strong indications that it may lower blood sugar levels and normalize insulin production. It may stimulate the release of insulin in the presence of non-stimulatory glucose concentrates, thus inhibiting an enzyme known as glucose-6 phosphate. This enzyme in the liver is responsible for converting carbohydrates into blood sugar. By inhibiting this enzyme, your blood sugar levels are also reduced.
Other Possible Benefits of Beta-Sitosterol
Studies strongly indicate that beta-sitosterol has antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. This is a very impressive broad-spectrum of activity. Other studies also show that beta-sitosterol may help prevent ulcers from forming in your stomach lining and that it may improve your blood platelet activity, prevent blood clotting, and improve T-cell activity in the blood. Research using beta-sitosterol in a topical application also shows positive results, indicating it may also help address skin issues such as acne and psoriasis.
When taken as a supplement, beta-sitosterol may cause some side effects. These include nausea, gas, indigestion, constipation, and diarrhea. Instances of erectile dysfunction are also possible. For lactating or pregnant women, not enough information is known about the effect of taking beta-sitosterol as a supplement to call it safe. Abstaining would thus be the safest bet. People who have sitosterolemia should also not take this as a supplement because this inherited fat storage condition results in people having too much beta-sitosterol in their system. They are also prone to heart disease and taking the supplement could exacerbate the condition.
Cardionomic Circuit Dysfunction
As previously mentioned, beta-sitosterol may improve your body’s cholesterol management and thus help heart health.
The cardionomic circuit is one of six circuits of your body’s NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response, your body’s automatic response when threatened. A threat is first perceived in the brain, starting with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and your adrenal glands are the end receiver, producing cortisol to bring your body into a state of readiness to respond to the perceived threat.
Your cardiovascular system (CVS) and autonomic nervous system (ANS), as parts of the cardionomic circuit, are also put into a state of readiness. Cortisol and adrenaline levels rise, blood pressure goes up, heart rate increases, and every nerve is ready to spring into action if necessary. Once the threat passes, all systems return to normal.
Prolonged stress, however, forces these high-alert systems to remain active for too long, draining the body’s reserves and beginning to cause damage to different systems. Meanwhile, those functions deemed not essential to life are decreased in response to stress, and as they remain off, your body is unable to repair and rejuvenate itself. The consequences to overall health can be serious.
Please note that an increase in cortisol and adrenaline production goes hand-in-hand with an increase in cholesterol. The higher your cortisol and adrenaline levels, the higher your cholesterol levels.
Your adrenals have to consistently work harder to provide the body with the constantly increasing demand for cortisol. At the same time, both your CVS and ANS are affected, with your body striving to keep up a balance. Ultimately, however, your adrenal glands get to a state where they are no longer able to function according to the demand set by your body’s NEM. Your adrenals become unable to produce the cortisol required and may start producing less and less cortisol as they go into a state of dysfunction. Concurrently with this, the CVS and ANS are also affected. The end result is cardionomic circuit dysfunction (CCD). CCD is associated with irregular heart pounding, salt cravings, hypoglycemia, and fatigue. Your cholesterol levels are also probably much higher than normal.
The next dysfunction that occurs affects your hormones. You might find yourself struggling with a rapid heartbeat, insomnia, and anxiety attacks. These symptoms often indicate one of the latter stages of adrenal fatigue.
At this point, adrenal fatigue sees your body and all its circuits go into a slow decline. You might not even realize you have the condition, with medical professionals addressing the myriad symptoms of the condition instead of the root cause. As the different circuits go into a decline, so do symptoms intensify. For some, the decline takes years. For others, it is swift. Each person is different with no two people’s bodies handling the condition’s decline at the same pace or showing the same set of symptoms. Even the root causes of their conditions could differ.
Ultimately, the dysfunction that affects your CVS could lead to heart damage. Some could face blood pressure issues, cardiac arrhythmias, or a number of other heart-related issues. High cholesterol is a factor in many of these heart-related conditions. As CCD progresses, symptoms could become worse over time.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every four deaths in the United States is due to heart disease. This makes heart disease the leading cause of death amongst both men and women in this country. Heart health should thus be one of our main priorities.
Taking beta-sitosterol, which is found in most food-bearing plants, in a supplement form may help us control one of the deciding factors in heart conditions – cholesterol. While much is still to be learned about beta-sitosterol, there is reason to be optimistic when it comes to its use for heart health and prostate enlargement.
If you are considering using this as a supplement, please be aware of the fact that some people may be susceptible to serious side-effects. All supplements should be taken under the direction of a healthcare professional who is experienced in your health conditions, the product, possible contraindications, and the dosage.
© Copyright 2012 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Lam’s Key Question
Does beta-sitosterol only benefit people with high cholesterol?
While research indicates that beta-sitosterol may combat your body’s absorption of cholesterol, studies indicate that this substance in most food plants may have other health-related benefits as well. This includes prostate issues, blood sugar issues, and certain cancers, to name but a few.
I am following your advice after reading your literature. I have not had any sugar, grains, corn, gluten for almost 4 weeks and I am losing weight, exercising and I feel great! I eat lots of vegetables, only Granny Smith apples, berries, nuts, seeds brown rice, millet and minimal organic chicken or fish. I am drinking lots of water as well. I am also sleeping much better, skin clearer and chronic symptoms improving. Thanks for the 'tough love,' Dr. Lam, and telling me to 'get educated' on my issues. You're a blessing.