Atherosclerosis, the main contributor to coronary heart disease, is characterised by an accumulation of lipids such as cholesterol in the arterial wall. Reverse cholesterol transport (RCT) reduces cholesterol via its conversion into bile acids (BAs). During RCT in non-hepatic peripheral tissues, cholesterol is transferred to high-density lipoprotein (HDL) particles and returned to the liver for conversion into BAs predominantly via the rate-limiting enzyme, cholesterol 7 α-hydroxylase (CYP7A1). Numerous reports have described that polyphenol induced increases in BA excretion and corresponding reductions in total and LDL cholesterol in animal and in-vitro studies, but the process whereby this occurs has not been extensively reviewed. There are three main mechanisms by which BA excretion can be augmented: (1) increased expression of CYP7A1; (2) reduced expression of intestinal BA transporters; and (3) changes in the gut microbiota. Here we summarise the BA metabolic pathways focusing on CYP7A1, how its gene is regulated via transcription factors, diurnal rhythms, and microRNAs. Importantly, we will address the following questions: (1) Can polyphenols enhance BA secretion by modulating the CYP7A1 biosynthetic pathway? (2) Can polyphenols alter the BA pool via changes in the gut microbiota? (3) Which polyphenols are the most promising candidates for future research? We conclude that while in rodents some polyphenols induce CYP7A1 expression predominantly by the LXRα pathway, in human cells, this may occur through FXR, NF-KB, and ERK signalling. Additionally, gut microbiota is important for the de-conjugation and excretion of BAs. Puerarin, resveratrol, and quercetin are promising candidates for further research in this area.
Keywords: ASBT; anthocyanin; atherosclerosis; catechin; diurnal rhythms; flavonoid; microRNA; phenolic acid; reverse cholesterol transport.