Phytosterols and omega-3 fatty acids (n-3) are natural food ingredients with potential cardiovascular benefits. Phytosterols inhibit cholesterol absorption, thereby reducing total cholesterol (TC) and LDL-cholesterol levels. Numerous clinical studies have shown that a daily intake of 1.5-2.0 g of phytosterols can result in a 10-15 % reduction in LDL levels, while consumption of n-3 is associated with a significant reduction in plasma triglyceride (TG) concentrations. Furthermore, n-3 may also beneficially modify a number of other risk factors of coronary heart disease (CHD). Thus, it is reasonable to suggest that combination of phytosterols and n-3 may further reduce cardiovascular risk factors. Esterification of phytosterols with non-n-3 fatty acids has substantially improved their incorporation into a variety of foods without affecting the efficacy of phytosterols. Therefore, it is assumed that esterification of phytosterols with n-3 may have advantages for both food industry and health. Evidence suggests that this combination is effective in reducing the levels of several cardiovascular risk factors including TC and TG concentrations, pro-aggregatory factors, arrhythmic eicosanoid and thromboxane A2 levels. In this mini-review, we have critically reviewed and summarized data from clinical and animal studies in which phytosterols and n-3, alone or in combination, were used. We have also provided information on structure-function relationship for these two natural compounds. Biological properties of several phytosterol derivatives including phytosterol-glucoside have been also discussed. Although the animal studies are supportive of this combination therapy, human studies are needed to address its long term effects.
Keywords: plant sterols, sitosterol, omega-3 fatty acids, chd, lipoproteins, cholesterol, triglyceride
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