Know the source: Policosanol and cholesterol

The advertisement claims that policosanol (or polycosanol) — a pure extract of sugar cane wax — has been the subject of many clinical trials, even more than most pharmaceutical drugs. And it has outperformed some of popular prescription drugs.

But the positive studies have been primarily sponsored by one company in Cuba and conducted by one research center in Havana.

Clinical trials conducted by the Center of Natural Products at the National Center for Scientific Research in Havana report a dose-dependent reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol of up to 29%. In separate studies it was as effective as simvastatin (Zocor) with better tolerability, slightly better than fluvastatin (Lescol), but less effective than atorvastatin (Lipitor).

Outside of Cuba, in the hands of other researchers, the results are mixed.

Two studies published this year report negative results. At the North-West University in South Africa, policosanol had no significant effect on serum lipid levels in patients with hypercholesterolemia compared to placebo. Another study in Germany concurred with a lack of response to policosanol.

Policosanol is a combination of alcohols that come from plant wax. Part of the discrepancy in results might be related to the source of the policosanol. Besides sugar cane, other sources include wheat germ, rice, bran, and beeswax. In one study conducted by Unilever in the Netherlands, policosanol derived from wheat germ was not effective.

Cuban sugar cane-based policosanol is sold in more than 40 countries, mostly as a cholesterol treatment. It’s available on the Internet and in stores. In fact, One-A-Day Cholesterol Plus contains sugar cane-based policosanol.

8/4/06 17:07 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.