This is one of many supplements promoted as a way to improve blood cholesterol levels; it is an ingredient in some “heart health” formulas. Usually derived from sugarcane wax, policosanol can also come from beeswax, wheat germ, or rice bran. Most studies on it were done in Cuba (where much of it is made) by a single group of researchers, and these consistently showed that policosanol markedly improved cholesterol numbers. As a result of these studies, policosanol has been a widely used treatment in Latin America.
However, later independent studies from Germany, the U.S., and Italy found policosanol ineffective. Potential side effects include an effect on blood clotting, so it may interfere with certain anticoagulant drugs like warfarin. When it is combined with other ingredients, the effects of the supplements are especially unpredictable.
Our take: We don’t recommend policosanol. Besides the questions about its efficacy, there’s little or no research about its long-term safety. In contrast, statin drugs have been well studied and are proven to be effective—and their side effects are known, so you can be monitored for them. What’s more, several generic statins are cheaper than many supplements.