After setting out to write a blog on the latest cholesterol findings, I realized that there is too much complex information for one installment, so I broke it down to bite-sized topics that will be addressed over three posts.
Topics will include the latest cholesterol test to request from your physician, which most are not yet administering; information about cholesterol-lowering drugs; and how the faulty dietary information we’ve been receiving about lowering cholesterol is actually hurting us.
Cholesterol exists in every cell membrane of every living organism on Earth, and without it cells would die. Yet the general cultural awareness around cholesterol is that it’s bad for you.
When we test for cholesterol, it’s out of concern for heart health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans. We often think of cholesterol testing as measuring high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). However, these are not actually cholesterols, they’re transporters of cholesterol. We’ve been taught that HDLs are good and LDLs are bad.
Here’s what they do: HDLs go to areas in the body where there is an excess of cholesterol—i.e., the arteries—where they tear the cholesterol off, and return it to the liver to be recycled. LDLs bring cholesterol to cells for cell function. When cells get damaged, or when new cells are being made, cholesterol is needed—this is very good too!
After delivering the necessary cholesterol, LDL returns to the liver a bit shorter since it just donated cholesterol and then it gets recycled. However, this cycle gets disrupted if there is inflammation in the body.
Inflammation causes the body’s cells to disintegrate, which in turn release endotoxins. While LDLs have docking stations that they use to return to the liver, if there are endotoxins present, the LDL will act like a sponge and pick them up.
Problems then occur because the shortened LDLs, which are now loaded with endotoxins, can’t use their docking stations in order to return to the liver. LDL then gets stuck in the body’s circulation. When this happens, the endotoxins send signals to the body’s immune system saying, “Hey! We’re floating around here invading your body!”
When the immune cells come to the rescue, instead of finding live bacteria that they can kill, they find the shortened LDL full of endotoxins. They can’t kill this so they release a pro-inflammatory substance to try and help the body. We end up with a bunch of immune cells stuck to the shortened, loaded LDL, which is referred to as “small dense LDL particles.”
So, it’s really the small dense particles that we want to be looking out for. These particles easily build up plaque formations in the body. If a plaque breaks off and goes to the brain, it can result in a stroke. If it goes to the heart, it can result in a heart attack.
Since small particles can be missed on a routine LDL test—you could have normal LDL but miss the dangerous small particles floating around—this test should be specifically requested. There is still a lot of controversy around these new findings. If you have a history of heart disease or want to know more, research this topic further and consult your physician.
Stay tuned for the June 14 blog post where I’ll talk about the cholesterol-lowering drugs on the market today.