Can I use stanols and sterols to reduce my cholesterol?
Can I use cholesterol-lowering spreads that contain added plant stanols and sterols to further reduce my cholesterol if I'm taking a statin? Also, will I do myself harm if I take more than the recommended dose?
BHF dietitian Victoria Taylor says:
Your diet, especially the amount of saturated fat you eat, can affect your levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. Replacing foods that are high in saturated fats such as butter, cream and fatty meats, with low-fat dairy products, lean meat and unsaturated fats from vegetable oils and spreads can help lower your saturated fat intake and your LDL cholesterol levels.
Check food labels, because different products have different amounts of stanols or sterols in them
In combination with a balanced diet, eating foods that provide you with 2-2.5g of plant sterols or stanols every day can have an additional cholesterol-lowering benefit. Plant sterols are natural substances found in small amounts in everyday foods like fruits and vegetables, vegetable oils and nuts and grains. They are also added to some fat spreads, milks and yoghurts in amounts that make it easier to obtain the 2-2.5g per day required to see a reduction in cholesterol.
Check food labels, because different products have different amounts of stanols or sterols in them. There's little additional benefit to consuming more than 2.5g a day and it's advised that you don't consume more than 3g per day.
If you're taking statins, it's fine to use plant stanol or sterol products. As they work in different ways to reduce cholesterol, the effect can be cumulative. But remember that these plant stanols or sterols aren't substitutes for prescribed medications and whilst there is an expectation that their cholesterol lowering effect will lead to fewer heart attacks, no clinical trials have been undertaken to show this. You'll also need to make changes to your diet and lifestyle to help reduce your cholesterol levels and your overall risk of heart disease.
Meet the expert
Victoria Taylor is a registered dietitian with more than ten years’ experience. Her work for the NHS focused on weight management and community programmes for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. At the BHF she advises on diet and nutrition.