Increased plasma levels of plant sterols and atherosclerosis: A controversial issue
A number of studies have raised the possibility of circulating plant sterols being a risk factor in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Evidence in support of this hypothesis comes mainly from observations in sitosterolemic patients, who hyperabsorb plant sterols and suffer premature atherosclerosis. Accordingly, the atherogenicity of plant sterols of dietary origin is currently under debate, in view of the widespread use of cholesterol-lowering functional foods enriched with these compounds. Although some reports have suggested the vascular perils of small increases in plasma plant sterol concentrations, other prospective and large population-based studies have indicated otherwise. Further, the potential risk of plant sterol-enriched foods may be counterbalanced by the notable reduction in plasma cholesterol. This review summarizes the current evidence on the possible impact of plant sterols as a risk factor for atherosclerosis.