Dietary cholesterol and atherosclerosis

Biochim Biophys Acta. 2000 Dec 15;1529(1-3):310-20. doi: 10.1016/s1388-1981(00)00156-6.


The perceived relationship between dietary cholesterol, plasma cholesterol and atherosclerosis is based on three lines of evidence: animal feeding studies, epidemiological surveys, and clinical trials. Over the past quarter century studies investigating the relationship between dietary cholesterol and atherosclerosis have raised questions regarding the contribution of dietary cholesterol to heart disease risk and the validity of dietary cholesterol restrictions based on these lines of evidence. Animal feeding studies have shown that for most species large doses of cholesterol are necessary to induce hypercholesterolemia and atherosclerosis, while for other species even small cholesterol intakes induce hypercholesterolemia. The species-to-species variability in the plasma cholesterol response to dietary cholesterol, and the distinctly different plasma lipoprotein profiles of most animal models make extrapolation of the data from animal feeding studies to human health extremely complicated and difficult to interpret. Epidemiological surveys often report positive relationships between cholesterol intakes and cardiovascular disease based on simple regression analyses; however, when multiple regression analyses account for the colinearity of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat calories, there is a null relationship between dietary cholesterol and coronary heart disease morbidity and mortality. An additional complication of epidemiological survey data is that dietary patterns high in animal products are often low in grains, fruits and vegetables which can contribute to increased risk of atherosclerosis. Clinical feeding studies show that a 100 mg/day change in dietary cholesterol will on average change the plasma total cholesterol level by 2.2-2.5 mg/dl, with a 1.9 mg/dl change in low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and a 0.4 mg/dl change in high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Data indicate that dietary cholesterol has little effect on the plasma LDL:HDL ratio. Analysis of the available epidemiological and clinical data indicates that for the general population, dietary cholesterol makes no significant contribution to atherosclerosis and risk of cardiovascular disease.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arteriosclerosis / blood
  • Arteriosclerosis / etiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Cholesterol, Dietary / adverse effects*
  • Cholesterol, Dietary / toxicity
  • Cohort Studies
  • Coronary Disease / epidemiology
  • Coronary Disease / etiology*
  • Coronary Disease / mortality
  • Diet, Atherogenic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors
  • Species Specificity


  • Cholesterol, Dietary
  • Cholesterol