What Is It?
As one of several phytosterols (plant compounds with chemical structures similar to that
of cholesterol), beta-sitosterol is commonly found in foods such as wheat germ, soybeans, and corn oil. Over the past few years, concentrated extracts of this particular phytosterol have been tested for lowering cholesterol and lessening such discomforts of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) as frequent and painful urination.
In fact, Europeans have long taken beta-sitosterol and other plant remedies for prostate problems and growing numbers of American men are following suit. Beta-sitosterol products are now widely available in health-food outlets, and promising research results on beta-sitosterol for BPH are being published.
A Lancet study, for instance, found that among 200 men with BPH those given beta-sitosterol (20 mg three times a day for six months), showed significant improvements in urinary difficulties. In contrast, those men given a placebo reported no relief at all.
And in a key 1999 review of four well-designed clinical trials involving 519 men with mild to moderate (symptomatic) BPH, analysts reported that beta-sitosterol provided notable relief from urinary problems. It also increased urine flow and caused few side effects. Interestingly, benefits matched those commonly seen with prescription BPH drugs. Beta-sitosterol even holds promise for lowering a man's cholesterol levels at the same time that it controls BPH symptoms.
It's still not clear exactly how beta-sitosterol benefits the prostate; research indicates that it may lessen inflammation and block the accumulation of cholesterol in the prostate gland itself. It does not appear to alter the size of the prostate, however.
Beta-sitosterol may also lower elevated cholesterol in some cases, a function of its apparent ability to block the absorption of cholesterol throughout the body. However, relatively high daily doses are typically needed for this effect, so if you're taking the lower, standard daily amount of beta-sitosterol for BPH (125 to 250 mg daily), don't expect results for your cholesterol too. Consult your doctor for guidance about taking beta-sitosterol for high cholesterol.
There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with beta-sitosterol.
While each new study on beta-sitosterol for BPH provides important insights, much remains to be learned about how safe and effective beta-sitosterol is over the long-term. It's also unclear whether this plant substance can actually prevent complications of BPH, such as sudden and severe urine retention and the need for surgery.
Don't try to self-diagnose BPH. Although often benign, prostate problems should always be examined by a doctor to rule out other, more serious conditions, including prostate cancer. Also keep in mind that beta-sitosterol has not been investigated for men with particularly large prostates or severe BPH symptoms.
Don't stop taking a prescription medication and start taking beta-sitosterol for prostate problems without discussing the change with your doctor.
very small number of men develop gastrointestinal upset and impotence when taking beta-sitosterol. Consult your doctor if you have any concerns.
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