Anticancer effects of phytosterols

Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jul;63(7):813-20. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2009.29. Epub 2009 Jun 3.


Phytosterol and stanol (or phytosterols) consumption reduces intestinal cholesterol absorption, leading to decreased blood LDL-cholesterol levels and lowered cardiovascular disease risk. However, other biological roles for plant sterols and stanols have also been proposed. The objective of this review is to critically examine results from recent research regarding the potential effects and mechanisms of action of phytosterols on forms of cancer. Considerable emerging evidence supports the inhibitory actions of phytosterols on lung, stomach, as well as ovarian and breast cancer. Phytosterols seem to act through multiple mechanisms of action, including inhibition of carcinogen production, cancer-cell growth, angiogenesis, invasion and metastasis, and through the promotion of apoptosis of cancerous cells. Phytosterol consumption may also increase the activity of antioxidant enzymes and thereby reduce oxidative stress. In addition to altering cell-membrane structure and function, phytosterols probably promote apoptosis by lowering blood cholesterol levels. Moreover, consumption of phytosterols by healthy humans at the recommended level of 2 g per day does not cause any major health risks. In summary, mounting evidence supports a role for phytosterols in protecting against cancer development. Hence, phytosterols could be incorporated in diet not only to lower the cardiovascular disease risk, but also to potentially prevent cancer development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents* / administration & dosage
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents* / metabolism
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents* / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Diet
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Phytosterols* / administration & dosage
  • Phytosterols* / metabolism
  • Phytosterols* / pharmacology


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Phytosterols