Inflammation is a strong risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Dietary plant sterols are known to reduce plasma cholesterol levels and thereby reduce cardiovascular risk. Recent observations from animal and human studies have demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects of phytosterols. For example, several animal and human studies report reductions in the levels of proinflammatory cytokines, including C-reactive protein, after consumption of dietary plant sterols. Although the cholesterol-lowering effects of phytosterols in humans are well documented, studies on the effects of phytosterols on inflammatory markers have produced inconsistent results. This review summarizes and discusses findings from recent animal and human studies with regard to the potential anti-inflammatory effects of dietary phytosterols. Findings on the effects of plant sterols on inflammation remain limited and confounding. Future research using better-designed and well-controlled laboratory studies and clinical trials are needed to fully understand the mechanisms through which phytosterols influence inflammation. Additional well-designed placebo-controlled studies are needed to better understand how and to what extent dietary plant sterols may modify the immune system and the production of inflammatory markers.
© 2011 International Life Sciences Institute.