Atherosclerosis, a chronic progressive inflammatory condition characterized by the formation of lipid-laden lesions in arterial walls, is associated with substantial morbidity (including ischaemic stroke and myocardial infarction) and mortality. Risk factors for atherosclerosis are well understood and can be ameliorated by evidence-based and guideline-directed pharmaceutical agents (e.g. the reduction of circulating concentrations of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol by statins). Additionally, many natural products (usually food derivatives) and ‘nutraceuticals’ (pharmaceutical formulations prepared from components of foods) have been shown to have favourable effects on risk factors for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. This literature review summarises the evidence for anti-atherogenic natural compounds. The article focuses on agents which are discussed in international guidelines and are supported by extensive high-quality randomized-controlled trial (RCT) data. We focus on micronutrients (compounds present in food in small quantities) and nutraceuticals, in particular, phytosterols, polyunsaturated ω-3 fatty acids and red-yeast rice. We conclude that the ‘nutraceutical approach’ (identify the active ingredients in natural products; produce high-quality products according to Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines; evaluate them in long-term outcomes trials) is the mechanism by which the domains of natural product research and evidence-based medicine can move closer together.
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