Policosanol for Cholesterol

Can this sugar cane derivative help lower cholesterol?

Policosanol is a dietary supplement that some people take to lower cholesterol. The compound is mainly derived from sugar cane but can also be obtained from beeswax, cereal grains, fruits, nuts, and seeds.

This article describes the potential health benefits of policosanol, including how it is taken and what possible side effects may occur. It also takes an unbiased look at whether policosanol can help lower cholesterol as some people claim.

Cut down sugar cane stalks
PamelaViola / Getty Images

Also Known As

  • Octacosanol
  • 1-Octacosanol
  • N-Octacosanol
  • Octacosyl Alcohol

Health Benefits

Policosanol has been touted as a dietary supplement that can help lower cholesterol. Policosanol is claimed to offer numerous health benefits, including:

How policosanol does so remains a bit unclear. Some contend that it directly blocks the formation of cholesterol in the liver in the same way as statin drugs commonly prescribed to treat hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol).

Animal studies involving rats have suggested that policosanol interferes with the activity of 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme reductase (HMG-CoA), an enzyme essential to the production of cholesterol. HMG-CoA is the same enzyme targeted by statin drugs.

Whether this effect translates to lower cholesterol in humans is under debate.

A 2018 review of studies in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research concluded that, based on 22 studies involving 1,886 participants, policosanol from sugar cane can improve LDL and HDL levels. Even so, the researchers found inconsistency in the findings and advised that additional human trials are needed.

Limitations to Research Findings

Among the concerns, many of the studies included in the 2018 review were from Cuba’s National Center for Scientific Research, a group involved with the policosanol patent. The investigators noted that the results from the Cuba-based studies differed from those of other research groups, raising concerns about possible conflicts of interest.

The concerns are heightened by an earlier review of studies focusing on three human trials (out of 16) that met strict inclusion criteria for participants. This group of researchers could find no evidence that policosanol altered either LDL or total cholesterol levels in any way.

The same conclusions were drawn from a 2006 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The multi-center, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (one of the few such trials conducted in policosanol research) could find no changes in LDL, HDL, or total cholesterol after 12 weeks of treatment and different doses of the supplement.

Possible Side Effects

Most studies suggest that policosanol derived from sugar cane is well tolerated with minimal side effects. Among the most common are:

  • Indigestion
  • Skin rash
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss

Policosanol is thought by some to have significant anticoagulant (blood-thinning) effects. As such, it should be used with caution if you are taking any of the following blood thinners:

Policosanol may also increase the side effects of levodopa, a medication used for Parkinson's disease.

Who Should Not Take Policosanol?

Due to the lack of safety research, policosanol should not be used in children, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or those with certain medical conditions. Speak with your healthcare provider before using any supplement for medical purposes.

Dosage and Preparation

Policosanol is typically sold in capsule or tablet form at drugstores, nutritional supplement stores, health food shops, and online.

There is no standard recommended dose of policosanol. Many manufacturers recommend taking 10 milligrams (mg) once daily. Studies have reported that doses of up to 10 mg twice daily are safe.

What to Look For

Most of the studies examining the benefits of the supplement used policosanol derived from sugar cane. Because there is far less research on the effectiveness and safety of other forms of policosanol, check the product label to ensure the supplement is derived from sugar cane.

In the United States, supplements are not strictly regulated. As such, the quality can vary from one brand to the next.

To better ensure purity and safety, only buy supplements that have been voluntarily submitted for evaluation by an independent certifying body like U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF International. '

Certification does not mean that the supplement works but only that it contains the ingredients listed on the product label in correct amounts and with no impurities.

Summary

Policosanol is a supplement mainly derived from sugar cane. It is thought to lower cholesterol and have other health benefits as well. Although some studies support the claims, the findings are not consistent. Further quality research is needed.

A Word From Verywell

Due to a lack of supporting evidence, it's too soon to recommend policosanol for the treatment of high cholesterol. If you're considering using it, talk with your healthcare provider first. Self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can policosanol lower blood pressure?

    It may. A 2019 review of 19 studies involving over 2,200 adults concluded that a daily dose of policosanol (between 5 to 20 milligrams) reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, albeit to varying degrees.

  • Can policosanol help with weight loss?

    Possibly. A small study published in 2017 found that adults who took 10 milligrams (mg) of policosanol per day for eight weeks had reduced body fat mass. Even so, the loss was not equal. Of the 49 participants, young non-smokers experienced a 30% reduction in body fat mass, while young smokers and middle-aged participants lost around 10%.

  • Can you get policosanol from foods?

    You can, but in nowhere near the same amount as you would get from a supplement. Policosanol can be derived from certain waxes such as those found in:

    • Beeswax
    • Corn kernels
    • Grape seed
    • Green tea leaves
    • Milk thistle
    • Perilla seeds
    • Rice bran
    • Sorghum
    • Sugar cane wax
    • Wheat bran
9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Swanson B, Keithley JK, Sha BE, et al. Policosanol for managing human immunodeficiency virus-related dyslipidemia in a medically underserved population: a randomized, controlled clinical trial. Altern Ther Health Med. 2011;17(2):30-5.

  2. Harrabi S, Ferchichi A, Bacheli A, Fellah H. Policosanol composition, antioxidant and anti-arthritic activities of milk thistle (Silybium marianum L.) oil at different seed maturity stages. Lipids Health Dis. 2018;17:82. doi:10.1186/s12944-018-0682-z

  3. Lee JY, Choi HY, Kang YR, et al. Effects of long-term supplementation of policosanol on blood cholesterol/glucose levels and 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme a reductase activity in a rat model fed high cholesterol diets. Food Sci Biotechnol. 2016;25(3):899-904. doi:10.1007/s10068-016-0147-y

  4. Gong J, Qin X, Yuan F, et al. Efficacy and safety of sugarcane policosanol on dyslipidemia: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2018;62(1) doi:10.1002/mnfr.201700280

  5. Ogbac F, Quimpo R, Hilado JE, Rosa SY, Luz V, Tankeh-Torres SY. A meta-analysis on sugar cane policosanol as treatment for hypercholesterolemia. Phillippine J Internal Med. 2010;48.

  6. Berthold HK, Unverdorben S, Degenhardt R, Bulitta M, Gouni-Berthold I. Effect of policosanol on lipid levels among patients with hypercholesterolemia or combined hyperlipidemia: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2006;295(19):2262-9. doi:10.1001/jama.295.19.2262

  7. Castaño G, Más R, Fernández J, et al. Effects of policosanol on borderline to mildly elevated serum total cholesterol levels: a prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group, comparative study. Curr Ther Res Clin Exp. 2003;64(8):522-37. doi:10.1016/j.curtheres.2003.09.002

  8. Askarpour M, Ghaedi E, Roshanravan N, et al. Policosanol supplementation significantly improves blood pressure among adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trialsComplement Ther Med. 2019;45:89-97. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2019.05.023

  9. Kim JY, Kim SM, Kim SJ, Lee EY, Kim JR, Cho KH. Consumption of policosanol enhances HDL functionality via CETP inhibition and reduces blood pressure and visceral fat in young and middle-aged subjectsInt J Mol Med. 2017;39(4):889-899. doi:10.3892/ijmm.2017.2907

By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.