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Beta-sitosterol is a naturally occurring compound found in plants and in various fruits and nuts. The chemical makeup of beta-sitosterol is very similar to cholesterol. This substance has many medical benefits, including a clinically proven ability to lower bad cholesterol levels. Other benefits may include anti-inflammatory properties, strengthening the immune system, relieving symptoms of benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), and possibly even preventing hair loss.
The ability of this compound to lower bad cholesterol levels is due to its structural similarity to cholesterol. After eating a meal, fats and cholesterol are packaged into protein complexes in the intestines so they can be circulated throughout the body. Because beta-sitosterol is so similar to cholesterol, it is often packaged into these protein complexes in place of cholesterol, resulting in more cholesterol being excreted and less being absorbed by the body. Due to the fact that the cholesterol-lowering ability of this substance has been shown in various laboratories, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permits foods that contain this substance to be advertised as foods or drinks that have the potential to prevent heart disease.
Sterols like cholesterol and beta-sitosterol have chemical structures that are insoluble in water and tend to form thick and waxy solids at normal room temperature. Applying beta-sitosterol to the skin is often soothing to wounds or to burns, and for this reason many homeopathic creams contain this compound as one of the main ingredients. These creams may also help chronic inflammatory skin conditions. In addition, athletes sometimes use these creams for their anti-inflammatory properties to reduce swelling after intense workouts.
Beta-sitosterol is also used as a homeopathic remedy for certain male-associated problems that result from male hormones, including BPH and male pattern baldness. The mechanism for these positive effects appears to be the ability of this substance to lower circulating levels of certain male hormones. One drawback to the lower hormone levels, however, is that the side effects of large doses of this substance may include a lack of interest in sexual activity and may even contribute to the development of erectile dysfunction (ED).
Some other side effects of high doses of beta-sitosterol may include upset stomach or diarrhea. Because of its established effects on hormone levels, it is recommended that pregnant and breast-feeding women avoid supplementation. In addition, a rare disorder known as sitosterolemia causes people to store too much cholesterol and often results in the onset of premature heart disease. These people should also avoid beta-sitosterol supplementation because it can make their symptoms much worse.