Cholesterol Control: Statins vs. Plant Sterols

Adopting healthy lifestyle habits and eating foods that increase HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol are good for your overall health. But these steps may not be enough for you. If your LDL cholesterol levels remain high after you improve your diet and exercise habits, you still have work to do to reduce your risk of heart disease.

Two possible options are statins and plant sterols. Statins are medications prescribed by a doctor, and plant sterols are substances found in certain plant-based foods.

Let’s look at how these options compare in lowering cholesterol levels.

How do statins work?

Statins work by lowering levels of LDL cholesterol in your body. They do this by reducing the amount of LDL cholesterol that your liver makes. Statins also help your body reabsorb any cholesterol that’s built up in your arteries.

The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology guidelines recommend statins for certain people. These are people who:

  • have an LDL level of 190 mg/dL or higher
  • already have cardiovascular disease
  • have diabetes, are 40–75 years old, and have an LDL level between 70 and 189 mg/dL
  • don’t have diabetes, are 40–75 years old, and have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years

How do they compare?

Both statins and plant sterols help lower (bad) LDL cholesterol levels. Statins are the gold standard for drug treatment, and sterols are thought to be one of the best natural options to combat high cholesterol. Let’s see how else they compare.


Statins are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs, in part because they’re well-tolerated by most people. And besides lowering cholesterol levels, they can help reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.


Side effects
Statins can cause side effects for some people. These can include memory loss, muscle pain or damage, weakness, and nausea. Sterols, on the other hand, are not known to cause side effects when used short-term. Information on side effects from long-term use is not available.


2009 Case Study
A 2009 study analyzed research that compared people who took statins with plant sterols to patients who took only statins. The study had impressive results. Compared to statin therapy alone, the combination of plant sterols and statin therapy decreased the group’s total cholesterol by 14 percent. It also reduced their LDL cholesterol by 13 percent. But despite these promising results, more research is needed to determine if adding plant sterols to statin therapy will lower the risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart attack and stroke.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published