Cholesterol is a lipid that your body produces naturally. It's vital for the formation of cell membranes, certain hormones, and vitamin D. However, when cholesterol levels rise too high, they can lead to medical conditions such as hypercholesterolemia.
Cholesterol travels through your bloodstream in small packages called lipoproteins, which consist of lipids (fats) on the inside and proteins on the outside. There are two kinds of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol throughout your body: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). Having healthy levels of both is important.
LDL cholesterol is often referred to as "bad" cholesterol. A high LDL level leads to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries. HDL cholesterol, or "good" cholesterol, carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver, which removes the cholesterol from your body.
"Cholesterol isn't inherently bad. However, an imbalance can lead to health complications."
Triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) found in your blood. When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn't need to use right away into triglycerides. High triglycerides are often a sign of other conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, including obesity and metabolic syndrome.
"High triglycerides can be a sign of a more serious condition."
- Triglycerides (TGs) are a component of a standard lipid panel, which typically reports several cholesterol metrics. TGs affect the structure, size, composition, catabolism, plasma residence time, clearance, functionality, and concentration of all lipoproteins, including both the potentially atherogenic apolipoprotein B (ApoB) family and the ApoA-I/HDL family.
- Historically, unlike all cholesterol metrics, TGs have not been included as part of cardiovascular risk algorithms, apart from their contribution to the definition of the metabolic syndrome.
- However, a 2020 study conducted by researchers at Duke University found that the positive correlation between cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk and average TG levels begins at TG levels around 50 mg/dL. Above this level, risk continues to rise with increasing TGs, with each doubling of serum TGs corresponding to a CVD risk increase of 65%.
- Interestingly, the relationship between TG and CVD risk varied significantly between men and women, with a stronger association for women vs men.
- Extremely high levels can also cause acute inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).
- The study suggests that the risk associated with TG levels may be due to elevations in ApoB-containing lipoproteins (remnants and LDLs). This is consistent with genetic studies which have shown that the risk associated with elevated TGs can be accounted for through their association with elevations in ApoB.
Medications for Hypercholesterolemia and High Triglycerides
There are several types of medications used to treat high cholesterol and triglycerides.
Statins are a class of drugs often prescribed by doctors to help lower cholesterol levels in the blood. By lowering the levels, they help prevent heart attacks and stroke. Studies show that, in certain people, statins reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and even death from heart disease by about 25% to 35%. Studies also show that statins can reduce the chances of recurrent strokes or heart attacks by about 40%. (Source: Mayo Clinic)
PCSK9 inhibitorsPCSK9 inhibitors are a class of drugs that are used to lower blood levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C). They are monoclonal antibodies that inhibit proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9), which is a protein that targets LDL receptors for degradation. By inhibiting PCSK9, these drugs increase the number of LDL receptors, which leads to a decrease in LDL-C levels in the blood.PCSK9 inhibition: A game changer in cholesterol management - Mayo Clinic
Ezetimibe is a drug that lowers plasma cholesterol levels. It acts by decreasing cholesterol absorption in the small intestine. In a study, it was found that the addition of ezetimibe to statin therapy in patients with cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus reduces the incidence of cardiovascular events. (Source: Ezetimibe Added to Statin Therapy after Acute Coronary Syndromes)
Bempedoic Acid is a prodrug that is activated by a hepatic enzyme not present in skeletal muscle, inhibiting ATP-citrate lyase, an enzyme upstream of β-hydroxy β-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase in the cholesterol biosynthesis pathway. It is a safe and effective oral therapeutic option for lipid lowering in patients who cannot tolerate statins. The phase 3 CLEAR (Cholesterol Lowering via Bempedoic acid, an ACL-Inhibiting Regimen) Serenity clinical trial demonstrates the lipid-lowering efficacy of bempedoic acid among patients with established statin intolerance and elevated low-density lipoprotein cholesterol who were receiving stable background therapy. The most common muscle-related adverse event, myalgia, occurred in 4.7% and 7.2% of patients who received bempedoic acid or placebo, respectively. (Source: Efficacy and Safety of Bempedoic Acid in Patients With Hypercholesterolemia and Statin Intolerance)
Cholesterol absorption inhibitors reduce the amount of dietary cholesterol your body absorbs from your diet, and bile-acid-binding resins prompt your liver to use excess cholesterol to produce more bile acids, which are excreted in your feces.
Fibrates are a class of medications that are primarily used to reduce high levels of cholesterol in the blood. They are particularly effective at lowering triglycerides, a type of fat (lipid) found in your blood, and to a lesser extent, increasing "good" cholesterol (HDL cholesterol).
Fibrates work by activating a substance in the body called peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPAR-alpha). This substance helps to break down fats in the body and regulate cholesterol levels.
Niacin, sometimes called nicotinic acid, can lower your LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. It can also boost your HDL cholesterol. However, niacin doesn't provide additional heart benefits beyond what other treatments for high cholesterol offer.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements could help lower your cholesterol levels. They contain the beneficial types of fatty acids found in fish and can help lower your triglycerides.
Prescription omega-3 fatty acids are used along with diet and exercise to help lower levels of a certain blood fat (triglyceride). They may also raise "good" cholesterol (HDL). In general, prescription omega-3s are used to lower triglycerides in the blood. High levels of these types of fat in the blood are associated with an increased risk of pancreatitis and heart disease.
Your doctor will determine the best treatment based on your specific needs.
"Medication, combined with healthy lifestyle changes, can help control high cholesterol and triglycerides."
Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a genetic disorder characterized by high cholesterol levels, specifically very high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), in the blood and early cardiovascular disease.
People with FH have a higher amount of LDL cholesterol in their body from birth, which can lead to atherosclerosis at an early age. Atherosclerosis is a condition where plaque, made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances, builds up in the arteries. Over time, this plaque hardens and narrows the arteries, limiting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the body, which can lead to heart disease.
Genetics of Familial Hypercholesterolemia
Familial hypercholesterolemia is most commonly caused by a mutation in the LDL receptor gene (LDLR). This gene is responsible for the production of a protein that helps control the amount of cholesterol in the body. When the LDLR gene is mutated, the LDL receptor function is disrupted, leading to high levels of LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream.
Other genes that can be involved in FH include APOB, which provides instructions for making a protein that binds to LDL cholesterol particles, and PCSK9, which helps regulate the amount of cholesterol in the body.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis of FH is based on cholesterol levels, physical examination, and genetic testing. Genetic testing can identify the specific mutation causing the condition, which can be helpful for diagnosing family members.
The treatment for FH is usually based on LDL cholesterol-lowering medications. Statins are the first line of treatment. They work by blocking a substance your liver needs to make cholesterol, which causes your liver to remove more cholesterol from your blood.
Other medications include cholesterol absorption inhibitors, and bile-acid-binding resins, which help get rid of cholesterol. If these treatments are not enough, a procedure called LDL apheresis can be used. This procedure uses a machine to filter the blood and remove the LDL cholesterol.
Living with Familial Hypercholesterolemia
Living with FH involves regular check-ups with a healthcare provider to monitor cholesterol levels and heart health. It's also important to maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle. This includes eating a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol, exercising regularly, not smoking, and limiting alcohol intake.
Despite the challenges, with proper treatment and lifestyle changes, individuals with FH can lead healthy lives.
- Molecular genetics of the LDL receptor gene in familial hypercholesterolemia
- Degradation of cationized low density lipoprotein and regulation of cholesterol metabolism in homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia fibroblasts
- Inhibition of Microsomal Triglyceride Transfer Protein in Familial Hypercholesterolemia
- Diagnostic Yield and Clinical Utility of Sequencing Familial Hypercholesterolemia Genes in Patients With Severe Hypercholesterolemia
Lifestyle Changes for Managing High Cholesterol and Triglycerides
In addition to medication, lifestyle changes can also help manage your cholesterol levels. These include:
- Healthy Eating: A heart-healthy diet can help lower your cholesterol levels. This includes eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats (like those found in olive oil, avocados, and fatty fish).
- Regular Exercise: Physical activity can help raise HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
- Quitting Smoking: Smoking lowers your good cholesterol, increases your bad cholesterol and increases your risk of heart disease.
- Limiting Alcohol: Too much alcohol can raise your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation.
Understanding cholesterol, hypercholesterolemia, and high triglycerides is the first step towards better heart health and acctually many aspects of our health . With the right knowledge, lifestyle changes, and medication, these conditions can be managed effectively.
- Cholesterol is a lipid that's essential for health, but too much can lead to conditions like hypercholesterolemia.
- Hypercholesterolemia is often the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices and can be managed with lifestyle changes and medication.
- High triglycerides can be a sign of more serious conditions like heart disease and stroke.
- Medications like statins, psk9 inhibitors, cholesterol absorption inhibitors, bile-acid-binding resins, fibrates, niacin, omega-3 fatty acid etc. , can help control high cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Lifestyle changes such as healthy eating, regular exercise, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol can also help manage cholesterol levels.