Phytosterols, cholesterol and the risk of coronary heart disease

Scientific researchers from the Leipzig University Faculty of Medicine (Germany), in collaboration with other European studies have carried out carried out a genetic linkage analysis of the concentration of phytosterols in the blood of almost 10.000 persons. Thus, together with cholesterol, they can constitute a risk factor for coronary disease.

This research work has been published in the scientific journal ‘Nature Communications‘. In this way, German researchers from the University of Leipzig have used a method to determine the influence of variable risk factors on diseases; taking advantage of genetic factors and achieving lower causal relationships between phytosterols, cholesterol and coronary diseases.

The leader of the aforementioned research, Professor Markus Sholz, explains that “it seems that there are negative causal effects of phytosterols, both direct and indirect, mediated by cholesterol, on the risk of coronary heart disease”.

It goes on to add that «therefore, the study makes a significant contribution to a debate that has been controversial for many years. Although this still does not allow an immediate conclusion to be drawn about the addition of phytosterols to food, high concentrations of phytosterols are a risk factor that must be taken into account.”

Phytosterols and cholesterol

Specifically, phytosterols are a kind of lipid compounds that are formed in plants and are ingested with food. Some foods that help incorporate these compounds are nuts or vegetable oils.


In addition, on certain occasions they are also artificially added to different foods, such as yogurt or margarine.

Although, phytosterols can help reduce cholesterol, which is why they are considered to have beneficial effects on health. However, this research work offers another point of view on the action of these elements in the body.

And on the other hand, phytosterols are similar to cholesterols, since they can accumulate in the vascular walls and cause atherosclerosis. Thus, it is necessary to clarify that the relationship between coronary diseases and phytosterols is a controversial issue in medical research.

Phytosterols in the blood

Regarding the research work that concerns us, the authors were able to identify seven regions of the genome associated with concentrations of phytosterols in blood; of which five are new.

Furthermore, through bioinformatic analyses, the team deduced plausible candidate genes. That is, genes with biological effects on the metabolism of sterols.

In conclusion, Professor Scholz points out that “this greatly expands our understanding of the genetic regulation of phytosterol concentrations in the blood. These genes, or their products and functions, represent potential targets for the development of future drugs»

In any case, the researchers state that further research into the action of phytosterols in the body is necessary. And it is that despite being associated with a reduction in blood cholesterol levels, it could also be that this type of compound also generates an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease.

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