Cholesterol is a fairly misunderstood substance. Most people think of it as being a bad thing, as it contributes to heart attacks, strokes, peripheral arterial disease, and other cardiovascular disorders.
Well, the truth is that there are many types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL), very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and triglycerides. LDL cholesterol is vital for the production of hormones, cellular membranes, and more. HDL cholesterol keeps LDL and VLDL cholesterol from getting out of control, and triglycerides are basically just fat in storage form.
It’s no surprise that cholesterol (specifically LDL and VLDL) is a strong worry among the American public. Thanks to the high trans fat and hydrogenated oil content of the food we eat, the CDC estimates that up to 33% of Americans (more than 71 million) have high cholesterol. The vast majority of studies into cholesterol have found that lowering cholesterol levels is the key to reducing cardiovascular disease.
According to a new study, we should try to lower our cholesterol levels to those of a newborn infant. Researchers from the UK’s Imperial College London analyzed data collected from more than 5,000 participants of cholesterol-lowering trials. The patients’ average age was 60, the majority were overweight, and they had all been diagnosed with high cholesterol in the past. All were undergoing statin therapy, with some taking a new drug (alirocumab) that would cause even greater lowering of their cholesterol.
The study found that getting cholesterol back to normal levels (less than 100 mg/dL) improves our health, but the real health benefits were seen when cholesterol levels dropped very low. When the patients reached 50 mg/dL, their risk of stroke, angina, heart attack, and death from cardiovascular disease dropped significantly. The risk of cardiac problems decreased by 24% for every 39 mg/dL reduction of cholesterol.
While it’s an established fact that the human body needs cholesterol, this study found that it’s impossible to drop your LDL cholesterol too low. In fact, lower is actually much better for your health. The data proved that very low levels of cholesterol—the levels common among infants and newborns—will seriously protect our hearts and prevent cardiovascular disease.
Want to be healthy? Time to get that cholesterol back under control? That means not only following a heart-smart diet but also spending plenty of time exercising. If you can restore very low levels of cholesterol, your risk of heart disease (and death) will drastically lower as well. Prepare for a long, happy life.
1. K. Ray et al., “Reductions in Atherogenic Lipids and Major Cardiovascular Events A Pooled Analysis of 10 ODYSSEY Trials Comparing Alirocumab With Control,” Circulation, doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.116.024604, published online 24 October 2016.