The Danger of Oxidized Cholesterol and Tips for Prevention

Medically reviewed by Carissa Stephens, RN, CCRN, CPN on November 14, 2017Written by Brian Wu, PhD on September 29, 2015

Heart disease and cholesterol

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. You’ve probably heard that too much saturated fat can lead to high cholesterol and eventually heart disease. Oxidized cholesterol is what poses the danger here.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a wax-like substance that occurs naturally in your body, which needs it to function. You also get cholesterol from the foods that you eat.

If you have a buildup of cholesterol in your bloodstream, it can form a substance called plaque in between layers of your artery walls. The buildup makes it harder for your heart to keep the blood circulating. If the plaque breaks apart, it can lead to blood clots. Strokes occur when a clot blocks any of the arteries that lead to the brain. If an artery leading to your heart is blocked, you can have a heart attack.

There are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also referred to as good cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also referred to as bad cholesterol.

LDL is made up of fats and proteins and contributes to plaque buildup in the arteries. This extra buildup makes the arteries less flexible and leads to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

What is oxidized cholesterol?

The cholesterol that dangerously builds up on artery walls is oxidized. Oxidation is very damaging to the cholesterol cells.

Oxidation is the result of a normal body process, but if something triggers an overproduction of oxidized cholesterol, it can be dangerous.

Your immune system may mistake oxidized cholesterol for bacteria. Your immune system then tries to fight it off, which can cause inflammation inside of the arterial wall. This can lead to atherosclerosis or heart disease.

What are the risk factors associated with oxidized cholesterol?

There are three main ways oxidized cholesterol builds up in your bloodstream:

  • eating commercially fried foods, such as fried chicken and french fries
  • eating excess polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are found in vegetable oils
  • cigarette smoking

Partially hydrogenated oils, or trans fats, are some of the unhealthiest fats you can eat. Vegetable oils, which contain trans fats, have had an extra hydrogen molecule added during production.

Processed foods are also sources of oxidized cholesterol. These include:

  • margarines
  • fast foods
  • fried foods
  • commercially baked goods

All of these foods cause inflammation in your body. This inflammation is caused by damage to your cell membrane and the oxidized LDL particles present.

Preventing oxidized cholesterol

There are things that you can do to stop the damage from oxidized LDL.

  • Focus on eating healthy fats. Monounsaturated fats are considered anti-inflammatory.
  • Eat saturated fats in moderation.
  • Include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet.
  • Pay attention to nutrition labels, and stay away from hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated foods.

Your doctor may be able to prescribe some medicine, but often natural supplements and a healthy diet are the best defense.

Speak with your doctor before starting a new supplement. Some supplements may interact poorly with the medications you’re taking.

If you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, your doctor can test you to see if you have a high level of oxidized LDL in your body. A routine lipid profile blood test can give you total cholesterol results, but it doesn’t test for oxidized cholesterol. A coronary artery calcium score CT scan can identify hidden cholesterol.

Atherosclerosis is a dangerous condition, and you should take it seriously. You may not show any symptoms, so it’s important that you get regular physicals, especially if you have any of the risk factors. Your doctor can keep an eye on your oxidized LDL levels and treat you to prevent it from getting worse.

Research is still being conducted on oxidized LDL and the best treatment. The best defense is a healthy diet and lifestyle, so talk to your doctor and get on board.

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