“Bad” LDL cholesterol may be a “good guy” after all


The dogma that LDL cholesterol is nothing but bad news—and the multi-billion-dollar statin drug industry that rests on it—is beginning to erode.

For decades, a vocal minority of doctors and nutritionists have argued that there is no such thing as ‘bad’ cholesterol and reported various positive effects of LDL (which stands for low-density lipoproteins, essentially a little package of cholesterol) and cholesterol in general. And now, accumulating biochemical evidence is supporting their claims.

The traditional medical thinking is that LDL particles that have reacted with oxygen (oxidized LDL) are highly inclined to dump their cholesterol stores onto artery walls, using white blood cells to transfer the cargo.

Eventually, they claim, this process leads to plaques—the main cause of heart attacks and strokes. This theory is based on evidence showing LDL in the wrong place at the wrong time—circumstantial, even after decades of research.

However, new findings from researchers at the University of Kentucky have shown the reverse: oxidized LDL might actually prevent cholesterol build-up on artery walls. When they analyzed the behavior of these white blood cells in closer detail, they found that oxidized LDL prevented their “selective uptake” of cholesterol.

The results were surprising even to the authors of the study, who went so far as to suggest that oxidized LDL could one day be developed for medical purposes to prevent plaque buildup—the same problem it’s now said to cause. (Source: The Journal of Lipid Research, 2014; 55 (8): 1648 DOI: 10.1194/jlr.M044644)

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