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Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Whether you’re starting to develop a receding hairline or noticing hair loss around your crown, dealing with hair loss is often a stressful experience.
If you’ve looked into options for stopping or reversing hair loss, you may have come across a variety of herbal treatments and natural supplements.
One supplement that’s often promoted as a natural treatment for hair loss is beta-sitosterol, a phytosterol that’s linked to improvements in some DHT-related health issues.
Like with lots of other dietary supplements, research on the effects of beta-sitosterol as a hair loss treatment is limited.
Below, we’ve dug into the science to find out if beta-sitosterol works as a natural treatment for male pattern baldness.
We’ve also listed other science-based treatments for hair loss that you may want to look into if you’re starting to develop male pattern baldness.
Beta-sitosterol (β-sitosterol, or b-sitosterol) is a naturally-occurring plant sterol that’s found in many common foods and cooking ingredients, including nuts, seeds, rice bran, wheat germ, soybeans, avocados, vegetable oils and olive oil.
Many other common health foods, such as margarines, are fortified to contain beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol, campesterol and related plant sterols.
Although beta-sitosterol isn’t a medicine, it’s an important precursor that’s used to make certain types of medicine.
It’s also widely used as a dietary supplement. Supplements containing beta-sitosterol are often marketed as natural products for strengthening the immune system, managing high cholesterol and reducing the effects of asthma, bronchitis, and migraines.
Studies of beta-sitosterol have shown that it can improve some urologic symptoms in men with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, or enlarged prostate). However the long term safety and efficacy are not well known.
Since BPH is caused by the effects of DHT, this has resulted in speculation that beta-sitosterol could also be a potentially effective substance for reducing DHT levels and treating hair loss in men from male pattern baldness.
Before we get into the science behind beta-sitosterol and hair loss, let’s look at general health benefits of beta-sitosterol.
Beta-sitosterol supplements are widely available from health food stores and online. They tend to be marketed as dietary supplements for treating heart disease, with products often promoted as natural options for reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol).
Currently, research shows that beta-sitosterol may help to:
Lower cholesterol levels. Although most research is small in scale, some studies have shown that diets high in phytosterols may reduce cholesterol absorption in the digestive system and reduce LDL levels.This may help to treat and prevent atherosclerosis -- a form of hardening of the arteries that’s caused by elevated cholesterol levels.
Treat some symptoms of BPH. Several clinical trials suggest that beta-sitosterol can improve some symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia, such as weak urine flow and other symptoms related to urination.
Reduce inflammation. Research has shown that beta-sitosterol has anti-inflammatory effects in certain types of tissue.
Researchers have also looked into the effects of dietary phytosterols such as beta-sitosterol on cancer cell growth.
In one study, researchers found that beta-sitosterol may enhance the effects of the medication tamoxifen, which is used to treat breast cancer in women and men.
However, this research is still in its early stages and shouldn’t be viewed as firm evidence that beta-sitosterol has anticancer properties, or that it or other natural supplements are effective at treating cancer.
Hair loss can occur for several different reasons. In men, the most common form of hair loss is male pattern baldness, which is caused by a mix of genetic factors and the effects of androgen hormones such as dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
Like with many other natural supplements that are promoted as hair loss treatments, there isn’t very much scientific evidence available for or against beta-sitosterol at this point in time.
Right now, most of the science on beta-sitosterol focuses on its potential as a natural treatment for men with BPH.
As we mentioned above, a systematic review that looked at studies of beta-sitosterol found that it appears to improve urinary flow and other symptoms in men with prostate enlargement.
Like with male pattern baldness, experts believe that benign prostatic hyperplasia is caused by the effects of DHT, which can bind to receptors in the prostate and cause the tissue to continue growing with age.
Interestingly, the FDA-approved hair loss medication finasteride (sold as Propecia®) first came onto the market as a treatment for BPH.
In fact, finasteride is still prescribed today to stop prostate growth and manage BPH symptoms under the brand name Proscar®.
Because DHT plays a major role in prostate enlargement and beta-sitosterol treats certain BPH symptoms, some supplement manufacturers have claimed that beta-sitosterol is a DHT blocker that’s effective at treating hair loss.
Right now, there isn’t any large-scale research to support this claim. This means that it isn’t yet possible to say whether or not beta-sitosterol works as a hair loss treatment.
As such, it’s best to view any claims that beta-sitosterol is a DHT blocker with a certain degree of skepticism.
There is, however, some scientific evidence that beta-sitosterol could potentially improve hair growth in men with signs of male pattern baldness.
In a small study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2002, researchers looked at the effects of botanical substances such as beta-sitosterol and Serenoa repens (commonly known as saw palmetto) as treatments for male pattern baldness.
Over a period of four to six months, the men’s hair growth was tracked by the researchers and the participants were asked to complete a survey assessing their response to the treatment.
The study found that 60 percent of the men who received the beta-sitosterol and saw palmetto supplement showed a positive response to treatment.
While this study is interesting, a couple of issues stand out. The first is that the men received a combination supplement that contained both beta-sitosterol and saw palmetto.
Other studies have found that saw palmetto may help to treat hair loss, making it impossible to know if the participants’ results were caused by the saw palmetto, the beta-sitosterol or the two active ingredients together.
Due to the lack of high-quality scientific evidence, at the moment, it’s best to take any claims of beta-sitosterol improving hair loss or blocking DHT with a grain of salt.
Right now, it belongs in the "unknown" category as a natural supplement for hair loss that might work, but also might not work.
Overall, beta-sitosterol appears to be safe, although like other supplements, it can cause some adverse effects.
Some men who use beta-sitosterol have reported digestion and stomach problems. Research also shows that beta-sitosterol can contribute to erectile dysfunction, although only a very small percentage of users (approximately half of one percent) report this side effect.
Beta-sitosterol and certain other plant sterols are also associated with sitosterolemia -- a health condition in which large quantities of plant sterols accumulate in the blood and tissue.
Sitosterolemia can cause a number of health issues, including an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and other cardiovascular health events.
Sitosterolemia is very rare, with only 80 to 100 documented cases in the medical literature. It’s caused by genetic mutations that can affect your body’s ability to eliminate plant sterols. If you have sitosterolemia, you should not use beta-sitosterol supplements.
As a dietary supplement, beta-sitosterol hasn’t gone through the same testing process as drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
To reduce your risk of side effects or interactions, make sure to inform your healthcare provider before using beta-sitosterol or any other dietary supplements.
They’ll be able to give you a more complete understanding of beta-sitosterol’s safety as part of your health and supplementation routine.
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Beta-sitosterol is available over the counter as a dietary supplement, meaning you can access it from your local health store or purchase it online without any need for a prescription.
As a supplement, beta-sitosterol may have positive effects on cholesterol metabolism and blood lipid levels.
It may also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that make it worth considering as a general health and wellbeing supplement.
As for its value as a treatment for hair loss, the jury is still out. While beta-sitosterol’s effects on BPH symptoms and the data on hair growth are interesting, there just isn’t enough evidence to call this an effective supplement for treating male pattern baldness yet.
So, if beta-sitosterol isn’t an effective option for treating hair loss, what is? Currently, the most effective products for treating hair loss are the FDA-approved hair loss medications finasteride and minoxidil.
Finasteride is an oral medication that works by blocking DHT production. Research shows that it’s capable of reducing DHT levels by more than 70 percent and producing a real, measurable increase in hair growth in balding men.
Minoxidil, on the other hand, is a topical medication that works by moving hair follicles into the anagen, or active growth, phase of the hair growth cycle.
It also improves blood circulation in the scalp, which may improve hair growth.
Research suggests that finasteride and minoxidil are most effective when used together. In one study published in the journal Dermatologic Therapy, more than 94 percent of men with hair loss who used a combination of finasteride and minoxidil showed improvements in hair growth.
In addition to finasteride and minoxidil, products such as hair loss prevention shampoo and hair growth vitamins can also play a role in treating and preventing hair loss.
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This is the FDA-approved dynamic duo. When used together, men saw better results in clinical trials compared to using either alone.
If you’re looking for something effective but don’t want too many steps in your routine, this once-a-day pill could be right for you.
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Beta-sitosterol is an interesting supplement that appears to offer real benefits, especially when it comes to cardiovascular health.
However, there isn’t yet any reliable, large-scale scientific evidence that shows that it’s effective at treating or preventing male pattern baldness.
If you’re losing your hair, you’ll get the best results from science-based, FDA-approved hair loss treatments such as finasteride and minoxidil.