What is oxidized cholesterol?

Oxidized cholesterol is made in the body when low-density lipoprotein (LDL) undergoes a chemical reaction. We have all heard of high cholesterol being bad for health.

Some of us know that it is the LDL cholesterol that is particularly bad. Of the LDL cholesterol, what you should know is that it is the oxidized cholesterol that is the dangerous element because it is the oxidized cholesterol that builds up on the artery walls and causes atherosclerosis.

What causes oxidized cholesterol?

LDL cholesterol or LDL-C floats in our bloodstream in various-sized particles ranging from small and dense to large and fluffy.

The larger particles are almost protective while the small dense ones increase your risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. This may indicate that people with small-sized LDL particles could be the object of higher LDL values.

LDL gets oxidized when its smaller particles react with the free radicals. It is the oxidized LDL that poses a bigger threat to your cardiovascular health.

A free radical is an unpaired atom or group of atoms that are unstable and highly reactive. Free radicals are formed due to:

  • the natural physiological processes in the body
  • environmental factors such as an unhealthy diet, processed foods, stress, smoking, alcohol, exercise, inflammation, drugs, or exposure to sunlight and air pollution.

What complications can oxidized cholesterol cause?

The oxidized and damaged LDL cholesterol triggers an inflammation process that attracts the white blood cells (WBCs) called macrophages. This happens because the WBCs are the guardians of our immune system and fight inflammation and infection.

The WBCs engulf the oxidized LDL forming new fat cells, which clump together, stick to the walls of the arteries, and form plaques. Plaque buildup can partially or completely block blood flow through an artery. This is called atherosclerosis, which is the common cause of heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease

Another way the oxidized LDL can increase your risk is it also prevents nitric acid production. It is nitric acid that helps prevent atherosclerosis by relaxing blood vessels.

Due to its “badness”, high levels of LDL need to be lowered and brought down within normal blood levels.

Why? Because elevated oxidized cholesterol levels increase your risk for:

How do you test for oxidized cholesterol?

The OxLDL test (test for oxidized cholesterol) is performed on a fasting serum or EDTA plasma sample. It may be performed on individuals who are at risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and metabolic syndrome.

The optimal result for the OxLDL test is 10 – 170 ng/mL. If elevated, contact your healthcare provider who will put you on medication and advise lifestyle measures and dietary preferences.

The test is routinely performed every 6 months or annually depending on any risk factors you may be carrying. If the initial test result is abnormal, then follow-up testing may be performed within 3-6 months after treatment has been started.

How do you reduce or remove oxidized LDL cholesterol?

Free radicals oxidize the excess LDL cholesterol in your blood. Therefore, to prevent oxidation of LDL you have to keep its levels within normal range. You can do it in the following ways:

  1. Medications. Statins form the drugs of choice to reduce raised serum cholesterol levels. They help clear arterial plaque and reduce elevated serum cholesterol levels by reducing its production in the liver.
  2. Diet. A proper diet of low-cholesterol foods consisting of healthy oils such as olive oil and low-cholesterol foods is essential. The Mediterranean diet consists of lean meats, healthy fats, and veggies and is considered ideal for people with high cholesterol.
  3. Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol
  4. Have adequate physical exercise
  5. If you are diabetic,  keep your blood sugar levels under control.
  6. Take fish oil supplements and dietary preferences for increasing omega-3 fatty acid levels.

Foods that can cause oxidized cholesterol and should be avoided include:

  • Trans fats: Foods higher in trans fats include pastries, deep-fried foods, potato chips, and any food cooked with lard.
  • Sugary foods.