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To test the hypothesis that cholesterol might suppress the beneficial effect of olive oil in atherosclerosis, we fed apoE KO mice diets containing extra virgin olive oil, either with or without cholesterol, for 10 weeks and assessed the development of atherosclerosis. Within each sex, mice were assigned randomly to one of the following four experimental groups: (1) a standard chow diet, (2) a chow diet supplemented with 0.1% cholesterol (w/w) cholesterol, (3) a chow diet enriched with 20% (w/w) extra virgin olive oil and (4) a chow diet containing 0.1% cholesterol and 20% extra virgin olive oil. On the standard chow diet, average plasma cholesterol levels were higher in males than in females. Olive oil- and cholesterol-enriched diets, separately or in combination, induced hypercholesterolemia in both sexes, and abolished the difference between the sexes in plasma cholesterol levels. The addition of cholesterol to chow or olive oil diets decreased apolipoprotein A-I significantly in females and serum paraoxonase activities in males. The latter activity was higher in females than in males. In both sexes, the size of aortic atherosclerotic lesions was similar in olive oil- and chow-fed animals and smaller than in cholesterol-supplemented groups. Size of aortic lesions were positively correlated with circulating paraoxonase activity, particularly in males, and the relationship remained after adjusting for apolipoprotein A-I and HDL cholesterol levels. Our results demonstrate that the nutritional regulation of paraoxonase is an important determinant of atherosclerotic lesions dependent on sex. They also suggest that the mere inclusion of olive oil in Western diets is insufficient and the adoption of Mediterranean diet would be more effective in retarding the development of atherosclerotic lesions.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





17 - 28


Animals, Aortic Diseases, Apolipoproteins E, Aryldialkylphosphatase, Atherosclerosis, Cholesterol, Dietary, Diet, Mediterranean, Drug Interactions, Female, Male, Mice, Mice, Knockout, Olive Oil, Plant Oils, RNA, Messenger, Sex Factors