Herbal Therapies Used by People Living With HIV: Sterinols
Part of A Practical Guide to Herbal Therapies for People Living With HIV
Sterinols, or sterols, are plant fats. They can be derived from virtually all plants, but their concentrations vary. Sterinols are found in fairly high concentrations in the oils of unprocessed seeds and nuts and, to a lesser extent, in fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, modern diets are often deficient in these foods, and the refining of food products reduces the amount of sterinols present. These nutrients can't be manufactured by the human body, and you must eat them daily to maintain a stable amount in the body. These plant fats are structurally similar to cholesterol and may reduce cholesterol levels by decreasing the body's cholesterol absorption. They may also be important for maintaining the health of the immune system. Certain sterols look promising in breast and prostate cancer cell line studies.
In the late nineties there was some interest in the application of sterinols to the treatment of HIV. Mostly this interest was in resource limited settings with no access to antiretroviral drugs. A preliminary study, conducted in South Africa, found some changes in immune system functions as a result of the sterinol beta-sitosterol (sold under the brand name Moducare), although the clinical implications were not clear. Unfortunately, for people with severe immune suppression (fewer than 200 CD4 cells/μl), this sterinol did not improve their health. The South African study was not a controlled clinical trial. Therefore it is not known what role sterinols may have, if any, in the management of HIV infection without further study. Despite the lack of clear clinical evidence, Sterinol products are being widely marketed to PHAs.
Some PHAs are incorporating oils rich in sterinols into their diet, including the oils of sesame and pumpkin seeds that, preferably, are organically grown. In general, high-quality oils are those that are cold-pressed and then packaged in dark containers. Sterinol supplements have been used in Germany for many years for prostate problems and reportedly have no side effects other than an occasional mild irritation of the stomach.
This article was provided by Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange. Visit CATIE's Web site to find out more about their activities, publications and services.