Background: Policosanol is a mixture of higher primary aliphatic alcohols isolated from sugar cane wax, whose main component is octacosanol. The mixture has been shown to lower cholesterol in animal models, healthy volunteers, and patients with type II hypercholesterolemia.
Methods: We reviewed the literature on placebo-controlled lipid-lowering studies using policosanol published in peer-reviewed journals as well as studies investigating its mechanism of action and its clinical pharmacology.
Results: At doses of 10 to 20 mg per day, policosanol lowers total cholesterol by 17% to 21% and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by 21% to 29% and raises high-density lipoprotein cholesterol by 8% to 15%. Because higher doses have not been tested up to now, it cannot be excluded that effectiveness may be even greater. Daily doses of 10 mg of policosanol have been shown to be equally effective in lowering total or LDL cholesterol as the same dose of simvastatin or pravastatin. Triglyceride levels are not influenced by policosanol. At dosages of up to 20 mg per day, policosanol is safe and well tolerated, as studies of >3 years of therapy indicate. There is evidence from in vitro studies that policosanol may inhibit hepatic cholesterol synthesis at a step before mevalonate generation, but direct inhibition of the hydroxy-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase is unlikely. Animal studies suggest that LDL catabolism may be enhanced, possibly through receptor-mediated mechanisms, but the precise mechanism of action is not understood yet. Policosanol has additional beneficial properties such as effects on smooth muscle cell proliferation, platelet aggregation, and LDL peroxidation. Data on efficacy determined by clinical end points such as rates of cardiac events or cardiac mortality are lacking.
Conclusions: Policosanol seems to be a very promising phytochemical alternative to classic lipid-lowering agents such as the statins and deserves further evaluation.