Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the main cause of mortality worldwide. Risk factors of CVD can be classified into modifiable (smoking, hypertension, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia) through lifestyle changes or taking drug therapy and not modifiable (age, ethnicity, sex and family history). Elevated total cholesterol (TC) and low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C) levels have a lead role in the development of coronary heart disease (CHD), while high levels of high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C) seem to have a protective role.
The current treatment for dyslipidemia consists of lifestyle modification or drug therapy even if not pharmacological treatment should be always considered in addition to lipid-lowering medications.
The use of lipid-lowering nutraceuticals alone or in association with drug therapy may be considered when the atherogenic cholesterol goal was not achieved.
These substances can be classified according to their mechanisms of action into natural inhibitors of intestinal cholesterol absorption, inhibitors of hepatic cholesterol synthesis and enhancers of the excretion of LDL-C. Nevertheless, many of them are characterized by mixed or unclear mechanisms of action.
The use of these nutraceuticals is suggested in individuals with borderline lipid profile levels or with drug intolerance, but cannot replace standard lipid-lowering treatment in patients at high, or very high CVD risk.
Nutraceuticals can also have vascular effects, including improvement in endothelial dysfunction and arterial stiffness, as well as antioxidative properties. Moreover, epidemiological and clinical studies reported that in patients intolerant of statins, many nutraceuticals with demonstrated hypolipidemic effect are well tolerated.