Policosanol is a natural product, derived from the waxy coating of sugar cane, now available in Australia to lower high blood cholesterol. Six million Australians currently have blood cholesterol of more than 5.5 mmol/L, which is considered high.
Policosanol has been shown to be effective in lowering both total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol. It has also been shown to increase levels of the ‘good’ type of cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
The level of LDL in a person’s blood is linked to atherosclerosis (narrowing of the blood vessels due to build up of lipids, sometimes known as ‘hardening of the arteries’). Having a high level of LDL cholesterol puts a person at risk of having coronary heart disease.
HDL is called the ‘good’ cholesterol as it can actually help carry cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver, where it is processed and excreted from the body. A relatively high proportion of HDL in your total cholesterol level may be beneficial in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. Policosanol can increase levels of HDL, the good cholesterol.
Doctors have not yet discovered the exact mechanism of action by which policosanol lowers LDL cholesterol, but superficially it seems to be similar to that of other cholesterol-lowering drugs. It appears to decrease the production of cholesterol in the body and also increase clearance of LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream.
Policosanol has also been shown to reduce the stickiness of blood platelets. Blood platelets are the cells that congregate at sites of bleeding in the body and stick to each other to form a plug which stops the bleeding. They also release chemicals to attract more platelets and promote formation of a clot. This is usually a beneficial effect in the body, particularly when we are injured. This mechanism can also contribute to the formation of clots in narrowed blood vessels which become damaged where cholesterol and fats have built up. So, if the blood platelets are reduced in stickiness ‘ which is what policosanol achieves ’ there is less chance of a clot (thrombus) forming.
Total cholesterol — a single daily dose of 5 mg to 10 mg of policosanol has been shown in some studies to significantly reduce total cholesterol by between 8 per cent and 18 per cent.
LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) — in some studies a single daily dose of 5 mg to 10 mg of policosanol reduced LDL cholesterol by between 11 per cent and 28 per cent compared with the level before treatment. The reduction in LDL cholesterol with 10 mg of policosanol was comparable to results obtained with low-doses of statins — a class of cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as pravastatin and simvastatin.
HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) — in other studies a single daily dose of 5 mg to 10 mg of policosanol increased HDL cholesterol by between 17 per cent and 29 per cent.
These results were achieved after a treatment period of 8 weeks and were maintained when policosanol was given after that period.
Policosanol has been used overseas for nearly 10 years. So far, 2 large studies have looked at nearly 30,000 people taking between 5 mg and 15 mg of policosanol daily for 2 to 5 years and monitored them for adverse effects.
Only 48 patients stopped taking policosanol because of a side effect — a rate of less than one in 100. The most common side effect was weight loss.
Policosanol is available from health food stores and pharmacies without the need for a prescription. The recommended dosage is one to 2 tablets per day.
If you are thinking of taking policosanol, visit your doctor first to see if it is suitable for you. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis and advice on treatment before embarking on a course of therapy or giving up any medication already prescribed to you.
Last Reviewed: 04 December 2001