Many of us, me included, are loathe to use prescription drugs unless we absolutely must. The good news is that there are many natural supplements that, properly used, can be as good as, or better than, prescription agents.

But just because a product is “natural” doesn't mean it's not powerful; these supplements should still be treated with respect and caution. And the overblown claims made by many of their makers should be regarded with skepticism.

There is a large population of people anxious to find anything that can help improve their health and the supplement suppliers know this — and some prey on it with false promises. I don’t know about you but I do not care to waste my precious time, money, and health using trial-and-error methods to determine what works and what is a simply a myth. To that end, here is first of what I hope will be a series of articles that I like to call “myth busters.” Today, it’s time to bust “policosanol.”


Policosanol is a supplement derived from sugar cane. Dozens of studies, many being rigorously placebo-controlled, involving thousands of participants yielded remarkable effects like 25 - 30 percent reductions in LDL cholesterol and 15 - 20 percent increases in HDL cholesterol. This is an effect similar to niacin and without the bothersome flushing effect that prevents many people taking niacin (not to mention deadly side effects like rhabdomyolysis).

Not only that, but quite the opposite of niacin, policosanol seemed to actually improve blood sugar control. But, what really attracted my attention, was the report that policosanol was also reported to lower lipoprotein(a) — my personal scourge — often dramatically by 50 percent or more. Not surprising, policosanol was taking the world by storm.

Unfortunately, upon further examination, the initial results from what were almost exclusively Cuban studies, could not be reproduced in other academic and clinical settings. Here is a sample from the HeartConnect library refuting the earlier overblown claims about policosanol:

Still, there are still those who will swear by policosanol despite the fact that the “dueling” research studies have swung decidedly against policosanol. Fortunately, policosanol has a favorable safety profile when taken at recommended doses (depending on formulation) so, while it may not produce the effects claimed, it probably does not hurt if taken with the knowledge and consent of your doctor.

Hey, we are all different. Perhaps policosanol can work for a small segment of the population but it does appear unlikely it will work for the majority of us. If you do opt to try policosanol, make certain you use a preparation derived from sugar cane and not beeswax as some brands are. All the positive results, as dubious as they may be, came from cane-based derivatives.

Parting Words

It looks like policosanol is not the panacea its supporters claim it to be. Whether you decide to gamble on policosanol or not, always, always, always discuss any supplements you may wish to start with your doctor beforehand. As I mentioned earlier, whether nature makes a chemical or a factory does, it can exert power effects on your body.