What is LDL-C cholesterol and why is it relevant to CVD?
Physicians may often use the terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ when discussing cholesterol with their patients, suggesting that lower levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular events and developing cardiovascular disease (CVD).1,2 However, what is the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol and how can people ensure to maintain optimal levels of both.
Cholesterol is a type of lipid (fat), which plays an important part in the structure and function of cell membranes and is required for the synthesis of hormones and vitamin D.3 Around 80% of it is produced naturally in the body and is carried in the blood attached to proteins, forming ‘lipoprotein’ particles.3 Many people in Europe understand that there is a link between high cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular events.4
There are two key types of cholesterol-carrying lipoprotein particles.1 High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) can often be referred to as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol, respectively, and an individual’s level of each is a key measure that physicians use when determining CVD risk.1 HDL-C (‘good’) cholesterol transports cholesterol to the liver where it can be removed from the body and is associated with protecting your arteries.1 LDL-C (‘bad’) cholesterol carries cholesterol to the body tissues and can lead to a build-up of so-called plaques on artery walls.1,3 This build up is understood to increase the risk of cardiovascular events and developing CVD.1 Contrary to prior suggestions, recent large-scale studies have failed to confirm the benefit of higher levels of HDL (‘good’) cholesterol in reducing CVD risk.5
While genetics can influence peoples’ levels of HDL-C and LDL-C cholesterol, lifestyle choices significantly impact the levels.1 People with CVD and those with an elevated risk of cardiovascular events are frequently encouraged to maintain a healthy diet and to exercise regularly in order to achieve long term optimal levels of HDL-C and LDL-C cholesterol.1 However, for individuals with high LDL-C cholesterol levels medical interventions can also be used where the risk is considered significant enough by a physician to warrant it.1
How can cholesterol be managed effectively?
There aren’t any specific/visible symptoms that result from unbalanced / high levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, and the only way it can be identified is through the use of specific tests that take a reading of the level of cholesterol in your blood.6,7 For that reason, for those with elevated CVD risk or diagnosed with high levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, it is important to regularly monitor cholesterol levels and attend regular physician’s appointments to discuss the readings.
The conventional wisdom regarding management of LDL-C cholesterol levels can be captured by the following principle: The lower the better, the longer the better.
- The lower the better: LDL-C cholesterol occurs naturally within our blood.6 Previous recommendations centred around reducing foods high in saturated and trans fats e.g. red meat, full-fat dairy and processed foods contain LDL-C cholesterol, however, updated guidance around diet focuses on improving dietary patterns to include foods that are relatively low in cholesterol, e.g. whole grains, nuts, low-fat/fat-free dairy products.1,8 European guidelines advise that there is no lower limit for LDL-C cholesterol levels, however, for patients with very high LDL-C cholesterol levels they set a target of reducing levels by 50%.2
- The longer the better: High LDL-C cholesterol generally becomes more of a concern as people get older.9 Plaques build up over time, which means that achieving and maintaining low LDL-C cholesterol levels from an early age ultimately reduces the risk of cardiovascular events (when compared to lowered LDL-C levels only in later in life).10 Therefore, making dietary changes at an earlier age that support lower LDL-C cholesterol levels is advisable.
How aware is the public of our cholesterol levels in Europe?
Whilst the risk associated with elevated cholesterol levels is generally well understood among the general population, only approximately 50% of individuals would be able to state their cholesterol levels.4 This reduces further for individuals from the UK and the Netherlands where less than 40% of individuals knew what their cholesterol levels were when asked.4
Better education around cholesterol and the role it plays in CVD is needed to ensure people across Europe understand the importance of monitoring their cholesterol levels as part of managing their CVD risk. Whilst not always possible, prevention remains the best approach to reduce the risk of CV events and improving patient outcomes. World Health Organisation data demonstrated that 80% of stroke and heart attack events are avoidable and a better understanding of cholesterol and improved monitoring is essential to help rectify this statistic.11 At Daiichi Sankyo Europe, we are dedicated to raising awareness of CVD and its risk factors to ultimately help reduce the impact of CVD in Europe.