‘Bad’ cholesterol is not the only risk factor for heart disease, study finds

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Recent studies conducted at the University of Alberta have uncovered a new risk factor for cardiovascular disease, one that goes beyond the commonly known “bad” cholesterol.

This lesser-known culprit is called remnant cholesterol (RC), and it has been found to be a strong risk factor for coronary heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.

These groundbreaking findings are based on extensive research involving nearly one million participants from across the globe, shedding light on the global significance of RC as a risk factor for heart-related illnesses.

Understanding Remnant Cholesterol

Remnant cholesterol (RC) is a type of cholesterol that is produced during the metabolism of triglycerides derived from dietary fats and the body’s own cholesterol stores.

It has been largely overshadowed by the well-known “bad” cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), in discussions about heart health.

However, the recent studies from the University of Alberta have highlighted the importance of RC in assessing cardiovascular risk.

Global Insights into RC and Heart Health

The University of Alberta’s research involved participants from diverse regions, including Africa, Asia, North America, and Europe.

These studies, published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, represent the first large-scale evidence of a causal link between elevated RC levels and an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.

This discovery challenges the traditional focus on LDL cholesterol as the primary target for prevention and therapy.

The Impact of Elevated RC

The studies revealed compelling evidence regarding the risks associated with elevated RC levels:

  1. Coronary Heart Disease: Individuals with elevated RC faced a 1.5 times higher risk of developing coronary heart disease.
  2. Heart Attacks: Those with high RC levels had a 1.6 times greater risk of experiencing a heart attack.
  3. Strokes: Elevated RC increased the risk of stroke by 1.2 times.

These findings emphasize that RC can serve as a critical indicator of cardiovascular risk, potentially surpassing the predictive power of LDL-C.

Insights for Canadians

The University of Alberta also conducted studies specifically focused on the Canadian population, confirming the relationship between heart disease and high RC.

These studies, published in CMAJ Open, involved 14,000 middle-aged and older Albertans.

Intriguingly, the research revealed that RC levels remained high even in individuals who were already taking medication to lower their LDL-C levels.

This highlights the importance of assessing RC alongside LDL-C to gain a comprehensive understanding of cardiovascular risk.

The Role of RC in Diabetes

For individuals with diabetes, the impact of RC on cardiovascular risk is particularly significant. People with diabetes were found to have 22% higher RC levels compared to those without the disease.

They also exhibited a nearly 5% higher incidence of cardiovascular disease and a 50% higher likelihood of having other risk factors such as obesity.

Even though those with diabetes were more likely to be on cholesterol-lowering medication, their LDL-C levels were 23% lower.

This underscores the importance of RC measurements for monitoring heart health in individuals with diabetes.

Redefining Cardiovascular Risk Assessment

Collectively, these studies emphasize the importance of incorporating RC measurements alongside LDL-C assessments when evaluating cardiovascular risk.

By doing so, healthcare professionals can improve the accuracy of predicting an individual’s risk of heart attacks and strokes, enabling timely interventions, lifestyle adjustments, and appropriate medication.

The findings from the University of Alberta should prompt revisions to existing medical guidelines, both in Canada and globally, to include RC as a routine lipid parameter for measurement.

This change would provide healthcare providers with a more comprehensive understanding of a patient’s cardiovascular risk and guide treatment strategies effectively.

Furthermore, the research may open doors for the development of new medications that specifically target RC levels, offering additional avenues for managing and preventing heart disease.

As we continue to explore the complexities of cardiovascular risk, the inclusion of RC measurements may prove invaluable in safeguarding heart health for individuals worldwide.

If you care about heart health, please read studies about how eating eggs can help reduce heart disease risk, and herbal supplements could harm your heart rhythm.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about how drinking milk affects risks of heart disease and cancer, and results showing strawberries could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

The research findings can be found in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.

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