There's No Such Thing As Bad Cholesterol
As Dr. Michael Eades has pointed out to me and on his blog, what matters is not your LDL cholesterol number but whether your particles measure out to be large and fluffy (good!) or small and dense (bad!). (Gregg's doctor about fell out of his shoes when I asked him to measure Gregg's LDL particle size, among other things.)
Karen DeCoster retweeted this piece at Health Impact News -- "Putting The Myth To Rest: There Is No Such Thing As Bad Cholesterol," and though it's apparently a coconut oil sales site, the article, by Brian Shilavy, seems solid:
The 'noddy-science' of the so-called 'functional food' manufacturers would have us believe that there is such a thing as 'bad' cholesterol and 'good' cholesterol. This is, in fact, totally untrue. The cholesterol itself, whether being transported by LDL or HDL, is exactly the same. Cholesterol is simply a necessary ingredient that is required to be regularly delivered around the body for the efficient healthy development, maintenance and functioning of our cells. The difference is in the 'transporters' (the lipoproteins HDL and LDL) and both types are essential for the human body's delivery logistics to work effectively.
Problems can occur, however, when the LDL particles are both small and their carrying capacity outweighs the transportation potential of available HDL. This can lead to more cholesterol being 'delivered' around the body with lower resources for returning excess capacity to the liver.
LDL can vary in its structure and occur in particles of varying size. It is the smaller LDL particle sizes that can easily become 'trapped' in the arteries by proteoglycans, which is, itself, a kind of 'filler' found between the cells in all animal and human bodies. This can then cause the cholesterol the LDL carries to contribute to the formation of fatty deposits called 'plaques' (a process known as atherogenesis). As these deposits build up, they restrict the arteries' width and flexibility. This causes an increase in blood pressure and can also lead to other cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks or strokes.
The LDL itself is consequently sometimes referred to as 'bad cholesterol', but you can now appreciate the fact that this is simply incorrect. In fact LDL, HDL and cholesterol are all essential to our health. However, it seems that it has become common for humans to have a preponderance of 'unhealthily' small LDL particles, which can become a precursor to heart and arterial disease due to the mechanisms described. It is apparently healthier to have a smaller number of larger LDL particles carrying the same quantity of cholesterol than a large number of small LDL particles might transport, but for some reason this is less common. This is an interesting area that demands more research.
When LDL becomes retained by the glycol-proteins in the arteries it is subject to being oxidized by 'free radicals'. This is when the process can become health threatening. It has therefore been suggested that increasing the amount of antioxidants in our diet might effectively 'mop up' free radicals, and consequently reduce this harmful oxidation. Although the idea of consuming foods rich in antioxidants, or even using supplements, is now widely promoted, the scientific evidence for their efficacy still remains to be fully established.
Another point to consider is the occurrence of substances called 'very-low-density-lipids' or VLDL, also known as triglycerides. VLDL is converted to LDL in the bloodstream and therefore contributes towards increased levels of LDL and to subsequent potential cholesterol-related health problems. This is why triglycerides are usually measured when a cholesterol test of your blood is undertaken.
The production of VLDL in the liver - which amounts to a combination of cholesterol and low-density apolipoprotein - is exacerbated by the intake of fructose. Fructose is the type of sugar found in many fruits, it is also a component of sucrose and of the widely used food ingredient high-fructose corn syrup. This implies that anyone whose LDL or triglyceride levels are unduly high should cut back on those sweet sugary snacks, and even on the sweeter, fructose laden fruits; not simply reduce their intake of fatty foods!
He goes on to review some of the facts and fallacies at the link above.
There's an increasing amount of evidence pointing to the idea that heart disease is caused by inflammation.