Apoptotic effect of a phytosterol-ingredient and its main phytosterol (β-sitosterol) in human cancer cell lines

Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2019 May;70(3):323-334. doi: 10.1080/09637486.2018.1511689. Epub 2018 Sep 7.


Dietary interventions may effectively control cancer development, with phytosterols (PS) being a class of cancer chemopreventive dietary phytochemicals. The present study, for the first time, evaluates the antiproliferative effects of a PS-ingredient used for the enrichment of several foods and its main PS, β-sitosterol, at physiological serum levels, in the most prevalent cancer cells in women (breast (MCF-7), colon (HCT116) and cervical (HeLa)). In all three cell lines, these compounds induced significant cell viability reduction without a clear time- and dose-dependent response. Moreover, all treatments produced apoptotic cell death with the induction of DNA fragmentation through the appearance of a sub-G1 cell population. Thus, the use of PS as functional ingredients in the development of PS-enriched foods could exert a potential preventive effect against human breast, colon and cervical cancer, although further in vivo studies are required to confirm our preclinical findings.

Keywords: Antiproliferation; apoptosis; breast cancer; cervical cancer; colon cancer; plant sterols.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • HCT116 Cells
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Phytosterols / pharmacology*
  • Sitosterols / pharmacology*


  • Phytosterols
  • Sitosterols
  • gamma-sitosterol