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Is Oxycholesterol New Heart Disease Risk?


Move over total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: oxycholesterol may have you all beat when it comes to increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. That’s the word from scientists from China who made their announcement at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Although total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol are still considered important risk factors for heart disease and other related conditions, new research shows that oxycholesterol increases total cholesterol levels and thus promotes development of atherosclerosis more than non-oxidized cholesterol (e.g., LDL, HDL, total cholesterol).

According to the American Heart Association, more than 80 million Americans have one or more forms of cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease (myocardial infarction, angina pectoris), stroke, and heart failure. About 35 percent of all deaths in the United States are due to cardiovascular disease.

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Oxycholesterol is produced in the body during oxidation, when fats and oxygen meet and react chemically. Oxidation occurs, for example, when foods that contain fat, such as meats and poultry, are fried or grilled. Oxycholesterol is also produced during food processing in the form of trans fatty acids and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, as are still found in many so-called junk foods. In recent years there has been much debate about the presence of trans fats in processed foods, and now food producers are required to list these cell-damaging fats on ingredient labels.

The recent study was one of the first to investigate the impact of oxycholesterol versus non-oxidized cholesterol on raising blood cholesterol levels. Scientists used hamsters to measure the effects of a high-oxycholesterol diet. They found that blood cholesterol levels in hamsters fed oxycholesterol increased up to 22 percent more than in hamsters who ate a diet with non-oxidized cholesterol. Hamsters in the oxycholesterol group had greater deposits of cholesterol in their arteries and a greater tendency to develop atherosclerotic plaques, which raise the risk for heart attack and stroke.

Oxycholesterol is found in fried foods, as frying converts fats to oxidized fats. Processed foods that contain trans fats are other sources of oxycholesterol. A healthy diet dominated by foods rich in antioxidants, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds can help prevent the accumulation of oxycholesterol. For now, researchers do not know if the popular statin drugs have any impact on oxycholesterol.

American Heart Association
Science Daily August 23, 2009