Plant sterols and atherosclerosis

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Plant sterols as ingredients to functional foods are recommended for lowering LDL cholesterol. However, there is an ongoing discussion whether the use of plant sterols is safe.

Recent findings

Genetic analyses showed that common variants of the ATP binding cassette transporter G8 (ABCG8) and ABO genes are associated with elevated circulating plant sterols and higher risk for cardiovascular disease. However, these data do not prove a causal role for plant sterols in atherosclerosis because the risk alleles in ABCG8 and ABO are also related to elevated total and LDL cholesterol levels. The ABO locus exhibits still further pleiotropy. Moreover, analyses in the general population indicated that moderately elevated circulating plant sterols are not correlated with present or future vascular disease. In agreement, novel studies using food frequency questionnaires, studies in experimental animals, and dietary intervention studies support that ingestion of plant sterols may be beneficial to cardiovascular health.

Summary

Taken together, current evidence supports the recommendations for the use of plant sterols as LDL cholesterol-lowering agents. Nevertheless, a prospective, randomized, controlled, double–blinded, intervention trial conclusively showing that plant sterol supplementation will prevent hard cardiovascular endpoints is not available to date.

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