Plant stanols increase COVID-19 antibody response in the overweight

By Claudia Adrien

- Last updated on GMT

Researchers gave participants plant stanol ester, esterified to rapeseed oil fatty acids. @ Wavebreakmedia / Getty Images
Researchers gave participants plant stanol ester, esterified to rapeseed oil fatty acids. @ Wavebreakmedia / Getty Images

Related tags plant stanols COVID-19 Obesity

Overweight and obese individuals who consumed plant stanols decreased the overall inflammatory activity of the immune system while simultaneously increasing antibody responses to COVID-19, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“Consuming plant stanols affects immune responses to COVID-19 vaccinations, translating into increased serum anti-COVID-19 IgM concentrations in subjects with overweight/obesity,” the Dutch researchers wrote. “Only in IgG seroconverted subjects, serum anti-COVID-19 IgG concentrations also increase…These results suggest that this high-risk group for COVID-19 complications could benefit from plant stanol consumption.”

They added that lifestyle interventions may improve immunologic outcomes in people with a compromised immune function.

Study details

Carried out between April 2021 and January 2022, the double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial studied 32 participants with overweight/obesity who consumed products with added plant stanols (4 g per day provided as plant stanol ester) or placebo.  Participants consumed the plant stanol ester, esterified to rapeseed oil fatty acids, in drinks per day to optimize the bioavailability of the plant stanols.

These were administered approximately two weeks before participants received their COVID-19 vaccination until four weeks after vaccination. Researchers analyzed antibody titers weekly and measured serum metabolic markers and cytokine profiles of the participants.

To be eligible for the study, individuals had to be over the age of 18, have a BMI between 27 and 35 kg/m2 ​and not use any products enriched with added plant sterols or stanols during the study period. Participants were excluded from the study if they had not already received a COVID-19 vaccination or previously tested positive for COVID-19.

“We showed that consuming 4 g of plant stanols per day significantly increased serum anti-COVID-19 IgM Spike antibody titers (up to 139%) in adults with overweight or obesity,” the researchers wrote. “Only in people that showed IgG seroconversion, plant stanol consumption also increased serum anti-COVID-19 IgG Spike…Altogether, these results suggest that this high-risk group for COVID-19 complications could benefit from plant stanol consumption to increase COVID-19 antibody titers.”


Worldwide, 39% and 13% of adults are overweight or obese, respectively, and this demographic is expected to increase even further, according to the World Health Organization.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it became evident that the impaired immune system of people with obesity translated into more severe illness and hospitalization after infection.

“The decreased immune responses of people with overweight or obesity can be measured best by analyzing changes in specific antibody titers in response to a vaccination,” the researchers noted. “The production of specific antibodies in response to vaccination is called seroconversion. Individuals with obesity in general have suboptimal vaccination responses, potentially because of impaired T-cell activation or functioning.”

Seroconversion to a vaccine has become critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially since an early vaccination trial demonstrated that the initial antibody production as a response to the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine was impaired for people with a higher BMI, the researchers wrote.

These findings suggest future research may expand avenues in which antibody titers can be increased to correspond with COVID-19 vaccinations.


Source: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
doi: 10.1016/j.ajcnut.2024.01.017
“Plant stanol consumption increases anti-COVID-19 antibody responses, independent of changes in serum cholesterol concentrations: a randomized controlled trial”
Authors: Lieve van Brakel et al.

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