Absorption and metabolism of dietary cholesterol

Author(s): Grundy SM


Cardiovascular disease is a major health problem in developed countries although its incidence is relatively lower in Mediterranean countries which is partly ascribed to dietary habits. Epidemiologic evidence shows that elevated serum cholesterol, specifically low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (c-LDL), increases cardiovascular disease. Phytosterols are bioactive compounds, found in all vegetable foods, which inhibit intestinal cholesterol absorption and, therefore, have a serum cholesterollowering effect. Intestinal cholesterol absorption is a multistep process where, plant sterols and stanols may act:a) attenuating the NPC1L1 gene expression, which may result in a lower cholesterol uptake from the lumen;b) lowering the cholesterol esterification rate by the ACAT2 (acyl-CoA cholesterol acyltransferase) and, consequently, the amount of cholesterol secreted via the chylomicrons andc) upregulating the expression of ABC-transporters ABCG5 and ABCG8 in intestinal cells, which may result in an increased excretion of cholesterol by the enterocyte back in the lumen. Many clinical trials proved that commercial products enriched with phytosterols reduce cholesterol levels. Likewise, recent studies show that phytosterols present in natural food matrices are also effective and could be an important component of cardioprotective dietary patterns such as the Mediterranean diet.

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