The mechanisms by which inulin may elicit its lipid-lowering effect are not well elucidated. To examine the lipid-lowering potential of inulin and especially its effect on bile acid metabolism, male golden Syrian hamsters were fed semipurified diets containing 20 g/100 g fat, 0.12 g/100 g cholesterol and 0 (control), 8, 12 or 16% inulin for 5 wk. Plasma total cholesterol concentrations were significantly lowered by 18, 15 and 29% in hamsters fed 8, 12 and 16% inulin, respectively. Dietary inulin specifically decreased VLDL cholesterol, which was significantly lower in hamsters fed 16% inulin compared with controls (1.1 +/- 0.3 vs. 2.9 +/- 0.6 mmol/L). LDL and HDL cholesterol were not significantly affected by dietary inulin. Plasma triacylglycerol was significantly reduced by 40 and 63% in hamsters fed 12 and 16% inulin, respectively. Hepatic total cholesterol and particularly esterified cholesterol accumulation were significantly lower in hamsters fed 8% inulin compared with controls. All three levels of dietary inulin caused distinct alterations in the bile acid profile of gallbladder bile. Taurochenodeoxycholic acid was significantly lower, whereas glycocholic and glycodeoxycholic acid were greater in hamsters fed inulin. Daily fecal bile acid excretion (micromol/d) tended to be greater (P = 0.056) in inulin-fed hamsters compared with controls, whereas daily neutral sterol excretion was not affected. These data demonstrate that the lipid-lowering action of inulin is possibly due to several mechanisms, including altered hepatic triacylglycerol synthesis and VLDL secretion and impaired reabsorption of circulating bile acids.