Plasma plant sterol concentrations (an index of cholesterol absorption efficiency) and plasma lathosterol concentration (an index of cholesterol synthesis rate) were measured in 52 patients with non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) and 36 non-diabetic controls. Plasma plant sterol concentrations were significantly (P less than 0.01) lower in diabetic patients (campesterol: men -36%, women -48%; betasitosterol: men -35%, women -42%). Fasting serum insulin levels were inversely correlated with plasma plant sterol concentrations in diabetic patients (campesterol: r = -0.347, P = 0.012; betasitosterol: r = -0.345, P = 0.012) and in non-diabetic men (campesterol: r = -0.578, P = 0.039; betasitosterol: r = -0.702, P = 0.008). Serum insulin levels were also correlated significantly with plasma lathosterol concentration in diabetic patients (r = 0.295, P = 0.034). The results of this study suggest that absorption of plant sterols and possibly cholesterol from the diet may be reduced in hyperinsulinemic diabetics.