What’s The Link Between Cholesterol And Inflammation?

What’s The Link Between Cholesterol And Inflammation?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two in five adults in the United States have elevated total blood cholesterol levels. One in 17 adults in the United States has high LDL cholesterol, with one in 48 adults having very high LDL cholesterol. That said, the prevalence of high cholesterol dropped 12.4% from 1999 to 2020. That figure represents about 21.5 million adults, which is a substantial amount.

When you have too much cholesterol in your arteries, it can build up as plaque on the arterial walls. That causes arteries to narrow, which makes it more difficult for blood to flow through them. That increases your risk of heart attack or stroke. Because inflammation is the body’s natural response to what it believes is harmful, it can interpret cholesterol as a problem. That can change the health of your arteries, making it more likely that cholesterol will cause problems. 

Does Cholesterol Affect Inflammation?

As previously mentioned, inflammation can cause changes to existing cholesterol in the arteries. Previous research linked inflammation to lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels. HDL cholesterol works to protect the heart by reducing the buildup of cholesterol in the blood. If you have low HDL levels, you may be at an increased risk for heart disease because cholesterol is more likely to cause plaque deposits. 

Inflammation also causes LDL (bad) cholesterol molecules to become more dense. Those turn into plaque deposits more easily. Additionally, inflammation can elevate triglycerides, another type of fat found in the blood. Just like high cholesterol, high triglyceride levels increase the risk of heart disease. 

Traditionally, people with high cholesterol or high triglyceride levels have directed their efforts to reducing those levels to decrease the risk of heart disease. New research indicates that finding ways to reduce inflammation may have more of an impact. 

Autoimmune Diseases And High Cholesterol

Autoimmune diseases are a group of health conditions that result from an abnormal immune response. Basically, the inflammatory does not turn off and causes damage. For example, the immune system mistakenly attacks health organs, tissues, or cells, weakening certain functions or abilities. Inflammation that results from autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, can be systemic. That means that it affects many bodily systems, including circulation and metabolism. Both of those factors can cause plaque to build up more easily in arterial walls. 

How Can You Lower Inflammation And Cholesterol?

Many experts encourage people to follow the Mediterranean diet to help reduce the risk of heart disease. This diet includes a lot of foods that contain antioxidants, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, all of which may assist your inflammation-reducing efforts. Research indicates that the Mediterranean diet is also linked to lower inflammatory markers in the body. The Mediterranean diet includes:

  • Beans and lentils
  • A variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Small amounts of eggs, poultry, and dairy products
  • Whole grains
  • Healthy fats from avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fish

Managing or preventing heart disease may also involve managing other risk factors for heart disease. You can take the following steps to help reduce risk factors: 

  • Monitor blood pressure and manage as needed
  • Stay active, aiming to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week
  • Manage stress, engaging in meditation, yoga, deep breathing, etc.
  • Regulate blood sugar if you have diabetes or prediabetes
  • Get sufficient sleep every night

The Takeaway

Both inflammation and cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease. In fact, several studies indicate that inflammation may be the main driving force of heart disease. If you take steps to both manage your cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation, you may reduce the risk of heart disease. Just remember that managing your cholesterol may not always be enough. You have to actively manage other risk factors as well, such as inflammation.

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