Heart Disease: Why Cholesterol is NOT the Culprit
Worry About Inflammation More than Cholesterol
Think again, cholesterol is not the only reason for heart diseases. Chronic inflammation is the deadlier culprit.
For a long time, the “cholesterol hypothesis” has been the cornerstone of the treatment of numerous heart diseases. (Remember, it’s still a hypothesis) It states that having too much fatty substance, called bad cholesterol, clogs your blood vessels. As a result, you may develop conditions like angina (chest pain), and heart attack. In an interesting turn, scientists are now looking at the role of chronic low-grade inflammation as the underlying cause of heart diseases. Various studies have revealed that the levels of inflammatory markers are higher in the patients with a heart disease.
While cholesterol may still be considered the main culprit, an increasing body of evidence suggests chronic inflammation might be the real culprit. No doubt, this debate is quite likely to continue for years to come.
In this article, I will talk about cholesterol, its functions, and how inflammation can lead to many chronic conditions including heart diseases. Also, you will have an insight of how healthy habits and diet can help to reduce the risk.
What is Cholesterol and What are Its Functions in the Body?
Cholesterol is an essential component of every cell in the body. This wax-like substance has a critical role in hormone production and vitamin D synthesis. In addition, it helps in digestion.
Good and Bad Cholesterol!
Personally, I would not prefer calling cholesterol good or bad. Nonetheless, you can find these terms frequently in the health articles worldwide.
Before we learn whether it’s really good or bad, let’s first know how cholesterol travels in the bloodstream. The movement of cholesterol inside the body is facilitated by carrier molecules called lipoproteins.
The names good and bad cholesterol come from how it is transported inside your body rather than what it does to your heart. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are called bad cholesterol because they allegedly cause fat deposition in the blood vessels. On the other hand, high-density lipoproteins (HDL) are called good cholesterol because they help to remove excess cholesterol from the body.
Is Cholesterol Really Bad?
Science can be interesting and weird at the same time. What we have been accepting as a truth for a long time could turn into a myth and vice-versa. The same thing has happened with cholesterol.
The researchers from US, Japan, Sweden, UK, Ireland and Italy just revealed some controversial findings. They found no link between bad cholesterol and heart diseases. You can find the study in the BMJ Open.
While it might be too early to jump to a conclusion, it’s definitely a high time we look at other probable causes of heart diseases like inflammation.
How Chronic Inflammation Increases the Risk of Heart Diseases?
Whenever we say inflammation, our brain automatically makes a picture of a red, swollen, and tender wound. But that’s the only visible part of an inflammation. In fact, it is your body’s way of telling that it’s time to heal and move away from the harmful stimulus.
But how would you know if the similar inflammatory processes are affecting you at the cellular level? What if the inflammation has been wreaking havoc on your health for years and you are totally unaware of it?
Here, we will focus on the role of chronic inflammation in the development of heart diseases. But keep in mind that many other diseases also have a link with long-lasting inflammatory changes. These include arthritis, diabetes, and ulcerative colitis.
The Link between Chronic Inflammation and Heart Disease
Most heart diseases result due to narrowed blood vessels that cannot carry enough blood to and from the heart. Till a few years back, we knew bad cholesterol was the major reason behind narrowed vessels, atherosclerosis.
But today, we have a wealth of studies that suggest atherosclerosis has its roots in inflammation. Right from the inception to the development of complications due to atherosclerosis, inflammation plays a critical role.
A high-fat and high-sugar diet, high blood glucose levels, high insulin, obesity, and insulin resistance all aid the inflammatory process. These triggers make the cells more sticky and thus facilitate adhesion of white blood cells to the arterial walls. This is also the same reason why two individuals with similar cholesterol levels have different risks for atherosclerosis.
Low-grade inflammation that lasts for years also causes a surge in the levels of inflammatory markers. For example, C reactive protein, serum amyloid A protein, and serum albumin. All these markers significantly increase the risk of heart disease even if you might be feeling healthy now.
Avoid These 5 Triggers of Inflammation
- High-sugar diet. Not only a high-sugar diet cause inflammation, it also increases insulin resistance.
- Trans fats. Stop taking margarine and hydrogenated fats.
- Refined carbs with little or no fiber. In addition to causing inflammation, these high-GI (glycemic index) foods cause a rapid increase in the blood glucose levels.
- Heavy alcohol consumption. Heavy drinkers have high levels of C reactive protein. Moreover, heavy drinking can lead to “leaky gut”, a condition in which intestinal contents leak into the bloodstream.
- Processed meat. Sausage, bacon, ham, smoked meat and beef jerky might serve your taste buds but they also cause inflammation. Even worse, they can lead to some forms of cancer as well.
Take These Anti-inflammatory Foods for A Healthy Heart and Body
- Antioxidant-rich foods. Antioxidants are the chemicals that help to reduce inflammation and promote cellular healing. Increase the intake of green leafy vegetables, berries, beans, and dark chocolate.
- Olive oil. Rich in healthy fats and powerful antioxidants, olive oil protects against heart diseases.
- Nuts. Nuts contain high amounts of heart-healthy omega-3-fatty acids. For this reason, nuts help to decrease inflammation and oxidative stress in the arteries.
- Fatty fish. Similar to nuts, fatty fish is a great source of omega-3-fatty acids.Studies suggest taking fish at least once or twice a week can significantly reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death.
- Tomatoes. There is a reason why tomato deserves a special mention in this list. It is a rich source of vitamins, antioxidants, and anti-cancer substances. For example, lycopene, beta-carotene, folate, potassium, vitamin C, flavonoids, and vitamin E. Daily consumption of tomato helps to reduce LDL, homocysteine, platelet aggregation, and blood pressure.
Want to Know More?
To know more about why inflammation might be more dangerous than cholesterol for heart disease, talk to an expert. Also, know how an individually customized nutrition helps to improve health, talk to an expert. Click here to set an appointment today.
- Libby, Peter. “Inflammation and cardiovascular disease mechanisms” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition February 2006;83(2): 456S-460S
- Danesh, J., et al. “Low grade inflammation and coronary heart disease: prospective study and updated meta-analyses” BMJ 2000 Jul 22; 321(7255): 199–204.
- Willcox, JK., et al. “Tomatoes and cardiovascular health.” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2003;43(1):1-18.