Another cholesterol hypothesis: cholesterol as antioxidant

Free Radic Biol Med. 1991;11(1):47-61. doi: 10.1016/0891-5849(91)90187-8.


Current emphasis on cholesterol as agency if not cause of human atherosclerosis and subsequent cardiovascular disease ignores the essentiality of cholesterol in life processes. Additionally ignored is the ubiquitous presence of low levels of oxidized cholesterol derivatives (oxysterols) in human blood and select tissues, oxysterols also implicated in atherosclerosis. Whereas such oxysterols may be regarded putatively as agents injurious to the aorta, an alternative view of some of them is here proposed: that B-ring oxidized oxysterols of human blood represent past interception of blood and tissue oxidants in vivo by cholesterol as an ordinary aspect of oxygen metabolism. Such interception and subsequent efficient hepatic metabolism of oxysterols so formed, with biliary secretion and fecal excretion, constitute as in vivo antioxidant system. Whether cholesterol, oxysterols, oxidized lipoproteins, or oxidants in blood, singly or in concert, cause or exacerbate human atherosclerosis remains to be understood.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants*
  • Cholesterol*
  • Humans


  • Antioxidants
  • Cholesterol