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When it Comes to Cholesterol, Size Does Matter

Cholesterol levels have long been the determining factor for sizing up your risk for heart disease. The questions have always been: “Is your LDL (bad cholesterol) low enough?”, and “Is your HDL (good cholesterol) high enough?” Over the years the ranges and ratios of the two have changed, but they continue to be the standard. However, recent studies have shown that these two numbers alone are not enough to predict your risk for heart attack and stroke. It is not so much the number of LDL in the blood, but the size of the particles. The smaller the size of the LDL particle, the more harmful it is to your arteries and the higher your risk for heart disease. This is because the smaller particles are denser and extremely inflammatory, therefore it is harder for them to move through the arteries.

Changing the way we think about an old subject can be a little overwhelming so let's use an analogy. If you had a hose, would it be easier to run a gallon of water through the hose or a gallon of pudding? The answer is obviously a gallon of water. So if you think of your arteries as the hose and the water as larger sized, less dense particles, and the pudding as the smaller size, higher density particles, it begins to make sense.

This is important because even if your LDL count is within range but your LDL particle size is small and dense, you are three times more likely to suffer a heart attack. Smaller, high-density particles move like sludge through the arteries. They oxidize easily, promote coagulation factors, and hang around the body longer than the larger sized LDL particles, leading to more fragile arterial walls and an increased number of clots, both of which are major factors leading to cardiac events.

The good news is, as damaging as these small proteins are, it is fairly easy to improve their size. Traditional pharmaceuticals, such as statins, do not help change the density of LDL proteins. However, simple more natural remedies like increased exercise and dietary changes have been shown to do the trick. Weight loss, high fiber foods, and omega-3 fatty acids have the greatest effect on decreasing LDL particle density.

So before you get too worried about your LDL levels on your latest blood test, ask your doctor to check the density of these proteins. A few extra blood tests could save you not just from a lot of worries, but also a lifetime of being on unnecessary medications. Remember, when it comes to cholesterol, size does matter!

The information in this article is for general educational purposes only, and should not be construed or interpreted as medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any medical condition or treatment, and before undertaking a new heathcare regimen. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article or any linked materials.

Anna Mahoney is a Licensed Acupuncturist with a Bachelor's Degree in Nutrition from Rutgers University. In her practice, she focuses on bringing her patients back to health through Chinese Medicine, nutritional counseling, and overall wellness care. In her personal life, she is a passionate cook, musician, yogi, and athlete. Anna lives in New Jersey, with her husband, John, and their dog, Betty. Anna blogs at The Green Banana.