(NaturalNews) Most health-conscious people have heard, by now, about two types of cholesterol: HDL cholesterol, known colloquially as "good cholesterol," and LDL cholesterol, also known as "bad cholesterol." Now, a new study from researchers at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology warns of a form of cholesterol even more dangerous than LDL: "remnant-like particle cholesterol," also known as "ugly cholesterol."
"I hope that this new knowledge will lead to better preventive treatment, as more than one in five Danes suffers from high ugly cholesterol," researcher Borge Nordestgaard said.
According to a media release from the University of Copenhagen, 20,000 people are diagnosed with ischemic heart disease each year, with a total of 150,000 people affected. The Danish Heart Foundation further reports that 50 percent of the country's population suffers from high blood levels of cholesterol.
The World Health Organization estimates that 17 million people suffer from cardiovascular disease worldwide. Cardiovascular disease is also the world's top cause of death.
Ischemic heart disease is caused by the hardening of coronary arteries (arteriosclerosis). Symptoms include chest pain (angina pectoris) and heart attack (myocardial infarction).
The researchers examined blood samples taken from 73,000 Danish residents involved in one of three population studies: the Herlev-Osterbro study, the Osterbro study and the Copenhagen heart study. All the participants suffered from a genetic defect causing unusually high ugly cholesterol levels throughout their lifetimes. The researchers found that regardless of variation in known heart disease risks such as smoking, weight, or diet, high levels of ugly cholesterol were strongly predictive of heart disease risk.
"LDL cholesterol or 'the bad' cholesterol' is of course bad, but our new study reveals that the ugly cholesterol is the direct cause of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) resulting in ischemic heart disease and early death," Nordestgaard said.
"By examining 73,000 persons, we found that an increase in the ugly cholesterol triples the risk of ischemic heart disease, which is caused by lack of oxygen to the heart muscle due to narrowing or blocking of the coronary arteries."
Risk directly linked to obesity
According to researcher Anette Varbo, the findings bring new clarity to a long-running debate about the relative role played in heart disease risk by HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and other factors such as triglycerides.
"High ugly cholesterol is the result of high blood levels of normal fat (triglycerides). The most important cause of high ugly cholesterol is overweight and obesity," Nordestgaard said.
"Persons with high ugly cholesterol should therefore be advised to lose weight."
According to the Danish Heart Foundation, the best way to lower blood cholesterol levels is to eat a diet low in fat and to maintain a healthy weight. Nordestgaard noted that in cases where people are unable to bring their cholesterol down far enough using natural methods, cholesterol-lowering statin drugs might possibly lower levels of ugly cholesterol as well. He did not say whether this had been experimentally tested.