Atherosclerosis: Diet and Drugs

Volume 170 of the series Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology pp 165-194

Fatty Acids and Atherosclerotic Risk

  • M.A. ThijssenAffiliated withDepartment of Human Biology, Maastricht University
  • , R.P. MensinkAffiliated withDepartment of Human Biology, Maastricht University

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Most research concerning the effects of dietary fatty acids on atherosclerotic risk has focused on their effects on lipid and lipoprotein metabolism. However, it is known that fatty acids also influence a number of other relevant mechanisms involved in atherosclerosis such as lipid peroxidation, inflammation and haemostasis. The most favourable distribution of cholesterol over the various lipoproteins is achieved when saturated and trans fatty acids are replaced by a mixture of cis-unsaturated fatty acids. Furthermore, fatty acids from fish oil lower triacylglycerol concentrations. Effects on other atherosclerotic risk markers are less evident. Monounsaturated fatty acids may be preferable above other fatty acids with respect to low-density lipoprotein oxidation as measured by indirect in vitro assays. The relevance of these assays for the in vivo situation is, however, limited. With respect to inflammation, mainly the effects of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids from fish oil have been studied, but results were inconsistent. Also results from studies evaluating the effects of fatty acids on haemostatic risk markers were inconsistent, which may be partly related to the use of different analytical methods. The most consistent finding however is the potential beneficial effect of moderate intakes of fish oil on platelet aggregation. Furthermore, reducing total fat intake rather than changing the fatty acid composition of the diet may beneficially affect the coagulation system. In conclusion, while beneficial effects on atherosclerotic risk are mainly ascribed to cis-unsaturated fatty acids, it remains debateable whether trans and saturated fatty acids in the diet have to be replaced by cis-unsaturated fatty acids or by carbohydrates. To answer this question adequately more validated methods are needed that reflect in vivo lipid peroxidation, inflammation and haemostasis.


Fatty acids Lipoprotein metabolism Lipid peroxidation Inflammation Haemostasis