Plant sterols and stanols are naturally occurring constituents of plants and as such normal components of our daily diet. The consumption of foods enriched in plant sterols and stanols may help to reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) concentrations. Meta-analyses have shown that consuming approximately 2.5 g plant sterols or stanols per day lowers serum LDL-C concentrations up to 10%, with little additional benefit achieved at higher intakes. However, recent studies evaluating plant stanol intakes up to 9 g/d have indicated that LDL-C concentrations can be reduced up to 17%, which suggests that more pronounced reductions can be achieved at higher intakes. Studies describing effects of high plant sterol intakes on serum LDL-C concentrations are not consistent. Besides the effects of higher than advocated intakes on serum LDL-C concentrations, several topics will be discussed in this review. First, besides the well-characterized effect of plant sterols and stanols on serum LDL-C concentrations, evidence is now emerging of their effects on triacylglycerol metabolism, which makes them highly attractive for interventions in metabolic syndrome-like populations. Secondly, there is an ongoing debate whether increased plant sterol concentrations are associated with an increased cardiovascular disease risk or not. For this there are at least two possible explanations. First, the potential atherogenicity of increased plant sterol concentrations might be ascribed to the formation of plant sterol oxidation products (so-called oxyphytosterols) or secondly, elevated serum plant sterol concentrations should only be seen as surrogate markers for characterizing subjects with high intestinal cholesterol absorption. Finally, we discuss recent studies, which suggest that plant sterols and stanols can improve endothelial dysfunction in subjects at risk, although evidence is limited and more research is needed.
Keywords: Plant sterols, Plant stanols, Low-density cholesterol, Triacylglycerol, Cardiovascular disease, Oxyphytosterols, Cholesterol metabolism, atherogenicity, campesterol, campestanol, lycopene, mayonnaise, normotriglyceridemic, chylomicrons, neomycin, sitosterolemic, Phytosterolemia, lathosterol, pleiotropic, predisposition, hydrophobic
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