Linseed contains biologically active substances, such as lignans, fibres and linoleic acid, which are believed to provide cardioprotective effects. The objective of the present study was to assess the potential hypolipaemic, anti-atherogenic and anti-inflammatory effects of linseed consumption using an experimental animal model, with rabbits fed a hypercholesterolaemic diet (1 % cholesterol extracted from lyophilised egg). A total of twenty white male rabbits were selected and divided into two groups: group I (GI), control group, ten rabbits; group II (GII), ten rabbits. The animals were fed a hypercholesterolaemic diet for 56 d. For the GII diet, ground linseed was added from day 29 through to day 56. Animals underwent aortic arch and descending aorta dissection on day 56 for histological, morphometric and immunohistochemical analysis. At the end of the experiment, GII animals presented with lower levels of total cholesterol (TC, 10 068·3 v. 16 767·0 mg/l; P < 0·05) and lower levels of LDL-cholesterol (LDL-C; 10 743·2 v. 15 961·2 mg/l; P < 0·05) when compared with the GI control group. There was no significant difference in serum HDL-cholesterol and TAG between the two groups. Almost all animals exhibited type III atherosclerotic lesions in the descending aorta. There was no statistically significant difference between the intima area and the intima:media layer area ratio in both groups. There was no difference between the positive areas for vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 and intercellular adhesion molecule-1 molecules between the groups. Linseed consumption showed hypolipaemic action by reducing LDL-C and TC levels; however, this cholesterol-lowering effect did not reduce the atherosclerotic lesions induced by a hypercholesterolaemic diet (1 % cholesterol) for a short period of time.