New Study Finds 'Bad Cholesterol' Is A Bad Indicator For Heart Disease

mbg Editorial Assistant By Christina Coughlin
mbg Editorial Assistant
Christina Coughlin is an editorial assistant at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Georgetown University in 2019 with a degree in psychology and music.
Here's Why The Term 'Bad Cholesterol' Can Be Dangerously Misleading

Image by Sean Locke / Stocksy

The term "bad cholesterol" has plagued many conversations around heart health, but what does it really mean?

In the medical world, "bad cholesterol" refers to low-density lipoproteins or LDL. High levels of LDL were previously thought of as an indicator for heart attack risk and coronary problems. Researchers recently discovered, however, this concept of "bad cholesterol" as a diagnosis for heart risks has been misleading, and it may be time for a change.

Currently, 75% of patients who suffer heart attacks don't have high levels of this bad cholesterol, meaning doctors and patients may be looking at the wrong indicator for risks. The study, which was published by the International Journal of Nanomedicine, set out to find a better way to detect those at risk.

To figure this out, researchers at Ohio University used human cells to measure levels of cholesterol and the impact on risk of coronary disease.

"Our studies can explain why a correlation of total 'bad' cholesterol with a risk of heart attack is poor and dangerously misleading," says lead researcher Tadeusz Malinski, Ph.D. "It's wrong three-quarters of the time."

Previously, the detection of risk was based solely on levels of LDL. Now, the results show that the actual composition of the LDL itself is much more relevant. While there are three subclasses of LDL, only one of these groups was proved to have damaging effects toward a person's health, increasing risk of heart disease.

"Understanding this could lead to improving the accuracy of diagnosis for the evaluation of cardiovascular disease rates," Malinski says.

Rather than measuring levels of LDL to assess risk of patients, doctors will be able to test the concentration of different subclasses of LDL. This will create a more accurate diagnostic process, both stopping misdiagnoses from happening and properly diagnosing those who previously would have been unaware of their risk.

Heart disease is currently the leading cause of death for both men and women, and having a better measure to diagnose this risk could potentially change the lives of many.

It's also important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, especially because symptoms present differently based on gender, and women tend to wait longer before contacting medical services. The sooner you can do something about it, the better.

For now, focus on the behaviors and diets you can follow to boost your own heart health.

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