Studies in rodents show that inulin and oligofructose can reduce the plasma levels of cholesterol and triacylglycerols (TG). In addition, they can oppose TG accumulation in liver and have favourable effects on hepatic steatosis. The hypotriglyceridaemic effect is due to a reduction in hepatic re-esterification of fatty acids, but mainly in the expression and activity of liver lipogenesis, resulting in lower hepatic secretion rate of TG. This repression of lipogenesis is not observed in adipose tissue. The effect on liver lipogenesis can be explained by reduced insulin/glucose levels or by a selective exposure of the liver to increased amounts of propionic acid produced in the large intestine during fermentation of non-digestible carbohydrates. The decrease in plasma cholesterol could also be due to inhibition of cholesterol synthesis by propionic acid or to modifications in the bile acid metabolism. Studies in man yield more conflicting results with a decrease or no effects on plasma lipid levels, and, when a decrease is observed, more marked effects on TG than on cholesterol and more consistent action of inulin than of oligofructose. Besides the difference in the dose of inulin or oligofructose used, differences in metabolic status could play a role in this discrepancy between man and animals since reduction in plasma TG is observed in man mainly in a situation of increased liver lipogenesis (high-carbohydrate diet, obesity, hypertriglyceridaemia). The effects on plasma cholesterol appear also more marked in hyperlipidaemic subjects than in healthy controls, suggesting that inulin and oligofructose have beneficial effects in these types of subjects.
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