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January 17, 2008

How To Combat The REAL Risk Factor For Heart Disease And Aging

Heart_bowl_2If you've been following our posts on this blog, or the articles on our website, you know full well the harmful nature of oxidized cholesterol which is found in many processed foods, and is even produced in our body under periods of oxidative stress

You know, because of cholesterol's tendency to oxidize when exposed to oxygen over long periods of time, that any powdered food or nutritional supplement containing cholesterol should be avoided if you value your long-term health. 

You also know that many "nutritional" products, like protein powders, protein drinks, and energy bars-which are marketed as healthy, may contain significant amounts of oxidized cholesterol because of the cheap powdered raw materials (like whey protein concentrate) used in their production.  In fact, the harmful nature of oxidized cholesterol was one of the main reasons why we formulated our flagship product, Integrated Supplements 100% Natural Whey Protein Isolate, with the "cleanest" CFM® protein available (containing zero milligrams of cholesterol per serving).

We've shown you how immune system cells called macrophages attack oxidized cholesterol once it's deposited in our arteries, and how their inability to digest oxidized cholesterol causes these macrophages to stuff themselves with the rancid lipid to the point of paralysis. 

We've seen that these fat and cholesterol-filled macrophages, when they build up, aggregate into what are called "foam cells," and that it's these foam cells which are inevitable precursors to the formation of full-blown "clogged arteries" or, arterial plaque.

In essence, over the past few months, we've tried to show you that oxidized cholesterol is well-known in scientific circles for producing some pretty nasty changes in the body; and that it's something which even marginally health-conscious people should avoid as much as possible.

But still, for as harmful as oxidized cholesterol is, the general public remains relatively unaware of its existence, or of strategies to combat it.

Perhaps this is becuase even medical professionals, who may be vaguely aware of oxidized cholesterol, often assume that strategies for lowering total cholesterol (or lowering LDL cholesterol, etc.), will be enough to reduce our burden of oxidized cholesterol indirectly.  After all, it makes some sense that lower levels of cholesterol in our blood will mean lower levels of cholesterol prone to oxidation.

But there are several reasons why this sort of logic is dangerously faulty.

The Real Risk Factors

First, realize that fully half of the people who suffer heart attacks have normal cholesterol levels, so there's nothing inherent in lowering cholesterol which necessarily causes oxidized cholesterol to decrease along with it.  In fact, some dietary components and nutritional supplements, like fish oil, for example, which have been shown in some studies to lower cholesterol, have also been shown to make LDL cholesterol more prone to oxidation.

Study Link - Effects of Fish Oil on Oxidation Resistance of VLDL in Hypertriglyceridemic Patients.

Quote from the above study:
"We conclude that fish oil supplementation strongly reduces serum concentrations of total triglycerides, VLDL triglycerides, and VLDL cholesterol. However, in HTG patients, fish oil supplementation increased the serum LDL cholesterol concentration and the susceptibility of VLDL and LDL to oxidation."

Highly unsaturated fats (like fish oils) are very chemically reactive, and in much the same process that causes these oils to "spoil" in food, rancid fats can interact with cholesterol causing it to "go rancid" or oxidize as well.  Fish oil is so chemically fragile in fact, that much of it has been shown to oxidize even before it reaches the bloodstream.

This is really big news for the millions of people in this country hoping to prevent the ravages of heart disease by taking fish oil supplements.  In the relatively short-term, fish oil may counteract some of the harmful effects of the fats and oils commonly found in the American diet, but fish oil consumption probably isn't the best way to prevent heart disease, and may be destined to create some significant and unforeseen side-effects if consumed in excess.

Can Low Cholesterol Be Dangerous?

Stethoscope72 The second problem with lowering total cholesterol without addressing the harmful nature of oxidized cholesterol in particular, illustrates common "throwing-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater" results frequently achieved by modern medicine (and alternative medicine too for that matter).

Contrary to widespread opinion, unoxidized, or native cholesterol, is not a harmful substance; it's needed for the structural integrity of every cell in the body, as a precursor to powerfully protective and youth-associated hormones, and can even act as a cellular "antioxidant" in its own right.

So, it's very important to remember that only when cholesterol becomes oxidized does it damage our health.  Oxidized cholesterol is a common thread running through all facets of bodily degeneration; causing the plaque formations and much of the metabolic disruption characteristic of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and the aging process.

And while we certainly want to reduce our bodies' level of oxidized cholesterol as much as possible, the same can't necessarily be said for our cholesterol levels in general.  Higher levels of total cholesterol (presumably largely unoxidized) have actually been shown to reduce all cause mortality in some populations.  More precisely, studies have found that in the elderly, low cholesterol is associated with an increased risk of dying from any cause.   

Study Link - Cholesterol and all-cause mortality in elderly people from the Honolulu Heart Program: a cohort study

Quotes from the above study:

"Only the group with low cholesterol concentration at both examinations had a significant association with mortality (risk ratio 1.64, 95% CI 1.13-2.36) . . .These data cast doubt on the scientific justification for lowering cholesterol to very low concentrations (<4.65 mmol/L) in elderly people."

So, armed with this deeper knowledge of the two-faced nature of cholesterol, it's overwhelmingly clear that strategies to combat the effects of aging and metabolic degeneration should focus on reducing levels of oxidized cholesterol in particular, while maintaining total cholesterol and ratios at healthy levels.

Putting Oxidized Cholesterol To The Test

And, as we pointed out in our previous post, blood testing procedures for oxidized cholesterol (oxLDL) have just recently been developed.  If these tests become more widely embraced within the medical community, we may very well find oxidized cholesterol receiving greater and greater attention, and that more precise strategies are developed to minimize its level in our bodies and its harmful effects.

But, as of the writing of this post, we know of only one medical laboratory actually conducting these blood tests for oxidized LDL levels - Sheil Medical Laboratories in Brooklyn, New York.

From their website:

The role of the OxLDL/HDL Ratio Test in the pathophysiology of atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease should be easy to comprehend. It is now believed that LDL is the "bad lipoprotein" and HDL is the "good lipoprotein." However, Oxidized LDL (OxLDL) now appears to be the "worst lipoprotein", since experimental studies have shown that LDL must first be converted to OxLDL in order for LDL to participate and be directly involved in the atherosclerotic disease process. Thus, the ratio of OxLDL to HDL is essentially the ratio of the "worst lipoprotein" to the "good lipoprotein."

It is noteworthy that OxLDL is not found in normal coronary arteries; OxLDL is only found in atherosclerotic plaques in diseased coronary arteries. OxLDL is a plaque-specific protein. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that OxLDL is directly involved in the conversion of monocytes/macrophages into cholesterol-laden foam cells, and that these foam cells become incorporated into the plaque. The yellowish appearance of plaques results from the deposition of cholesterol. Clearly, OxLDL is involved in the deposition of cholesterol into the atherosclerotic plaques, and HDL is involved in the removal of cholesterol from the plaques. Thus, the OxLDL/HDL Ratio Test is an indicator of the balance between the deposition and the removal of cholesterol in the atherosclerotic plaques. High OxLDL/HDL Ratio Test results are ominous, since they are usually associated with accelerated atherosclerosis and unstable coronary artery disease, which can lead to a heart attack. Low OxLDL/HDL Ratio Test results, on the other hand, are favorable, since they are usually associated with health and longevity.

But, even though only one laboratory is currently conducting these tests, as the saying goes: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."  Hopefully, more laboratories will be following suit soon, offering the oxLDL/HDL Ratio Test as a part of their testing panels.

In the meantime, as we've so repeatedly emphasized, we don't need to wait for the results of fancy laboratory testing to begin reducing our bodies' burden of oxidized cholesterol.  Our food supply has become so overly-processed, and popular foods often contain such a high amount of oxidized cholesterol, that simple dietary changes really can go a long way to improve our health, if we know what to look out for.

Combating Oxidized Cholesterol - Step 1

The first step is cutting out all sources of highly processed cholesterol-containing foods.  This encompasses ALL powdered sources of cholesterol including:

•Powdered Eggs
•Powdered Cheese (and shelf-stable grated cheese, for example)
•Powdered Milk
•Whey Protein Concentrate (very common in protein supplements)
•Commercial Baked Goods (made with powdered eggs, milk)
•Soft-Serve Ice Cream
 

And remember - you can’t compare the cholesterol in powdered form to the cholesterol in fresh foods as if it's the same thing.  It’s not.  The cholesterol in powdered foods, if oxidized, will impart completely different effects upon the body, and is sure to be much more harmful than the cholesterol in fresh foods.  As such, we should do everything we can to avoid even seemingly "small" amounts of cholesterol from powders.

Combating Oxidized Cholesterol - Step 2

Farmer_holding_grain72_3 The second step in combating oxidized cholesterol involves consuming adequate fiber with  meals.  Certain types of fiber (especially soluble fiber) have been shown to "latch on" to cholesterol from food in the intestines and to aid its passage out of the body - an especially valuable trait if we've happened to eat food containing oxidized cholesterol.

Thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of the cereal companies, most of us know that soluble fiber has the ability to combat cholesterol.  But if, in fact, soluble fiber has the ability to also combat oxidized cholesterol by preventing its absorption from our food, this represents a very important strategy to support our overall health, and is another major reason why we should aim to consume, and supplement with, adequate amounts of soluble fiber (a certain product called Fiber Balance comes to mind).

We've written about the incredible benefits of soluble fiber in the past, and feel strongly, that despite all of the promotion it's received in recent decades, dietary fiber remains the most underrated, underappreciated, and dangerously under-consumed component of our modern diet.

That Was Easy

Just these simple strategies should provide us with reasonable protection against the cholesterol oxidation products found in many processed foods.  By following these dietary guidelines, we can, at the very least, have the peace of mind of knowing that we're not actively contributing to our oxidized cholesterol burden by actually eating the stuff.

But not taking in cholesterol oxides from foods is only half of the story.

In future posts, we'll take a closer look at some of the ways to prevent the cholesterol inside our body - the stuff floating through our bloodstream, and incorporated into our cells - from oxidizing as well.

The more successful we are at this feat, the greater our chances of maintaining our health and vitality well into our golden years.  In fact, a few cutting-edge theories of aging give oxidized cholesterol a central role not just in the age-related changes of the arteries as we've discussed, but in the aging process of all cells, and of our body as a whole.

But exactly how can this little cellular villain really do such far-reaching damage, and what tools do we have at our disposal to protect ourselves? 

Stay tuned to find out.

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