Foods with plant stanol or sterol esters lower serum cholesterol levels. We summarize the deliberations of 32 experts on the efficacy and safety of sterols and stanols. A meta-analysis of 41 trials showed that intake of 2 g/d of stanols or sterols reduced low-density lipoprotein (LDL) by 10%; higher intakes added little. Efficacy is similar for sterols and stanols, but the food form may substantially affect LDL reduction. Effects are additive with diet or drug interventions: eating foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in stanols or sterols can reduce LDL by 20%; adding sterols or stanols to statin medication is more effective than doubling the statin dose. A meta-analysis of 10 to 15 trials per vitamin showed that plasma levels of vitamins A and D are not affected by stanols or sterols. Alpha carotene, lycopene, and vitamin E levels remained stable relative to their carrier molecule, LDL. Beta carotene levels declined, but adverse health outcomes were not expected. Sterol-enriched foods increased plasma sterol levels, and workshop participants discussed whether this would increase risk, in view of the marked increase of atherosclerosis in patients with homozygous phytosterolemia. This risk is believed to be largely hypothetical, and any increase due to the small increase in plasma plant sterols may be more than offset by the decrease in plasma LDL. There are insufficient data to suggest that plant stanols or sterols either prevent or promote colon carcinogenesis. Safety of sterols and stanols is being monitored by follow-up of samples from the general population; however, the power of such studies to pick up infrequent increases in common diseases, if any exist, is limited. A trial with clinical outcomes probably would not answer remaining questions about infrequent adverse effects. Trials with surrogate end points such as intima-media thickness might corroborate the expected efficacy in reducing atherosclerosis. However, present evidence is sufficient to promote use of sterols and stanols for lowering LDL cholesterol levels in persons at increased risk for coronary heart disease.
ASJC Scopus subject areas