Sterols Side Effects

Updated May 10, 2017

Sterols are compounds present in the fatty tissues of plants and animals called sterols and stanols. Plant sterols reduce cholesterol, which helps in decreasing the risk of heart disease. In 2000, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved products containing sterols (that met the certain qualifications) to carry a health claim statement that such products can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Plant sterols are added to food products like margarine and salad dressings. Reported side effects related to sterols are troublesome, but not serious.


Sterols work by preventing the absorption of cholesterol from the intestines. Plant sterols are also effective in treating enlarged prostate, gallstone and tuberculosis and cancer. The FDA recommends at least 1.3 grams of plant sterols and 3.4 grams of plant sterols per day to lower cholesterol. Plant stanols have similar health benefits.Sterols are available under such name as Phytostanal, Phytosterols and Benacal. Sterols are available in capsule form.

Side Effects

Side effects may include indigestion, feeling of fullness and gas along with nausea and diarrhoea or constipation. Additionally, there may be a decrease in the sexual drive of men, along with possible impotence (the inability to have a sustained erection to satisfy himself and his partner).

Additional Side Effect

According to, sterols may decrease the absorption of beta-carotene from food and vitamins into the body. This can be corrected by taking sterols and beta-carotene at different times of the day. Additional side effects that may occur are related to plant sterol products that may include other dietary supplements or herbs. Read these product labels to avoid consuming products to which you may be allergic.

Allergic Reaction

An allergic reaction is a serious medical emergency, the symptoms of which may include a rash, hives with itching. There may also be swelling of the face, mouth or tongue and throat along with wheezing, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.


Discuss your medical history and any allergies with your doctor, as well as any medications you may be taking, including herbal or over the counter drugs before taking sterols. Inform your doctor if you are pregnant, breast feeding or planning to get pregnant before taking sterols. Sterols are contraindicated if you have the rare genetic condition called sitosterolemia.

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About the Author

Norma Chew is a retired registered nurse who has been a freelance writer since 1978. Chew's articles have appeared in the "Journal of the Association of Operating Room Nurses" (AORN), "Point of View Magazine" and "Today's OR Nurse." Chew has a master's degree in health care administration from Nova Southeastern University.