• Cholesterol;
  • Mechanism of action;
  • Mixed micelles;
  • Plant stanols;
  • Plant sterols

Plant sterols and stanols are natural food ingredients found in plants. It was already shown in 1950 that they lower serum low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) concentrations. Meta-analysis has reported that a daily intake of 2.5 g plant sterols/stanols reduced serum LDL-C concentrations up to 10%. Despite many studies, the underlying mechanism remains to be elucidated. Therefore, the proposed mechanisms that have been presented over the past decades will be described and discussed in the context of the current knowledge. In the early days, it was suggested that plant sterols/stanols compete with intestinal cholesterol for incorporation into mixed micelles as well as into chylomicrons. Next, the focus shifted toward cellular processes. In particular, a role for sterol transporters localized in the membranes of enterocytes was suggested. All these processes ultimately lowered intestinal cholesterol absorption. More recently, the existence of a direct secretion of cholesterol from the circulation into the intestinal lumen was described. First results in animal studies suggested that plant sterols/stanols activate this pathway, which also explains the increased fecal neutral sterol content and as such could explain the cholesterol-lowering activity of plant sterols/stanols.