Researchers have found that a (virtually unknown to the public) form of cholesterol called oxycholesterol may be your most serious cardiovascular health threat.
“Total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), and the heart-healthy high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) are still important health issues,” says study leader Zhen-Yu Chen, Ph.D., of Chinese University of Hong Kong. “But the public should recognize that oxycholesterol is also important and cannot be ignored.
Our work demonstrated that oxycholesterol boosts total cholesterol levels and promotes atherosclerosis ["hardening of the arteries"] more than non-oxidized cholesterol.”
Q. So, how do we get this oxidized cholesterol – oxycholesterol?
A. Fried food, processed food, junk food…basically all of the food that makes you fat also has high levels of oxycholesterol. Quel surprise.
Scientists have known for years that a reaction between fats and oxygen, a process termed oxidation, produces oxycholesterol in the body.
- Oxidation occurs, for instance, when fat-containing foods are heated, as in frying chicken or grilling burgers or steaks.
- Food manufacturers produce oxycholesterol intentionally in the form of oxidized oils such as trans-fatty acids and partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils. When added to processed foods, those substances improve texture, taste and stability.
Until now, however, much of the research focused on oxycholesterol’s effects in damaging cells, DNA, and its biochemical effects in contributing to atherosclerosis. Dr. Chen believes this is one of the first studies on oxycholesterol’s effects in raising blood cholesterol levels compared to non-oxidized cholesterol.
In the new study, researchers compared the effects of a oxycholesterol rich diet to a diet rich in regular non-oxidized cholesterol.
The oxycholesterol group showed greater deposition of cholesterol in the lining of their arteries and a tendency to develop larger deposits of cholesterol. These fatty deposits, called atherosclerotic plaques, increase the risk for heart attack and stroke.
More importantly, oxycholesterol had undesirable effects on “artery function.”
Oxycholesterol reduced the elasticity of arteries, impairing their ability to expand and carry more blood.
In a healthy, elastic artery, expansion allows for more blood to flow through arteries that are partially blocked by plaques, potentially reducing the risk that a clot will form and cause a heart attack or stroke.
Luckily, a healthy diet rich in antioxidants can counter these effects, Chen said, noting that these substances may block the oxidation process that forms oxycholesterol.
Scientists do not know whether the popular anti-cholesterol drugs called statins lower oxycholesterol.
And how do we get a diet rich in antioxidants?
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices….aka real food.
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