According to the Center for Health and Nutrition Research at UC Davis’s January 2010 article on plant sterols, also called “sterolins” or “phytosterols,” these compounds are similar to cholesterol, and occur naturally in many different types of plants, especially whole grains, nuts or seeds and beans. Although allergies to plant sterols are rare, at least one team of dermatologists has found a case of allergic reaction to sterol supplements. In addition, plant sterol supplements can cause some unpleasant non-allergic side effects.
Many studies support the usefulness of sterols in lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol. The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University’s online information sheet on phytosterols notes that the recommended dose for cholesterol-lowering effects is two grams per day of the supplement.
Most research on plant sterols suggests that they combat allergies rather than cause them. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, reports from laboratory and animal studies suggest that sterols may limit inflammation, which in turn can slow an allergic reaction.
At least one individual has reported an allergic reaction to plant sterols, according to a 2009 article published in the journal "Clinical and Experimental Dermatology" by British dermatologists S. S. Hussain, J. Weir and N. Roberts. They reported a case of a woman with an acute and widespread rash. She had started taking a pharmacy's brand of sterols seven days before the onset of the rash. Because the woman was otherwise healthy, had no history of allergy to other substances, and was not taking any other medications, the researchers linked the rash to her consumption of plant sterol supplements.
The Linus Pauling Institute’s report on plant sterol safety notes that the FDA considers plant sterols to be generally recognised as safe (GRAS), although that doesn't rule out allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Many people consuming plant sterols in margarine-type spreads reported no adverse side effects. Some people do experience digestive issues when taking sterols, such as nausea, indigestion, diarrhoea or constipation. These effects are a sign that your system is sensitive to sterols.
If you have any signs of allergy following consumption of sterol supplements or foods enhanced with sterols, seek medical care immediately. According to Medline Plus, the National Institutes of Health’s online encyclopedia, food allergies arise when your body produces antibodies in response to a substance you’ve eaten. Symptoms of food allergy include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, difficulty swallowing, itching, runny nose, rash, hives, swelling of the mouth, throat, and face and difficulty breathing. Allergic reactions can cause serious illness and death.
Plant sterols are present in almost any plant food we eat. Wheat germ, sesame oil, canola and corn oil contain the highest levels of plant sterols. If you have no problem consuming some or all of these foods, but you do have an allergy or sensitivity to plant sterol supplements, you may have to rely on these natural sources to increase your intake.
According to EMedTV, plant sterol supplements can cause allergic reaction in a number of ways. Many phytosterol supplements contain whole plants or compounds that might actually be the culprit in the reaction. The inactive ingredients in supplements, including fillers, materials used to make capsules, or flavouring can also be at the root of your problem. The only way to confirm an allergy is to go for a skin or blood test, according to Medline Plus. Ask your doctor to book an appointment for you with an allergist.