Cholesterol and Inflammation: Does Inflammation Affect Cholesterol?
Medically Reviewed by Vincenta Faulkner, RD, CNSC, CCTD
Our heart health is a major contributor to our long-term health overall.
Maintaining a healthy heart can help us live life to the fullest. After all, our cardiovascular health is quite literally the heart of our overall well-being. With all the work that our heart does on a daily basis, a heart-healthy lifestyle goes a long way.
There’s a seemingly endless list of health factors that put our hearts at risk. But the deeper our understanding of our health risks, the better equipped we are to protect our hearts in the long run.
Staying on top of cholesterol levels is among the most commonly practiced means of preventative measures health-conscious folks take to maintain their cardiovascular health.
But how does inflammation come into play for heart health? Today, Zizi is here to uncover the relationship between inflammation, cholesterol, and heart health.
What Is Cholesterol?
Most people who’ve looked into ways to keep their hearts healthier have heard about cholesterol.
But what is it really? Getting a better understanding of cholesterol and how it works can make it easier to maintain healthy cholesterol levels in spite of risk factors like inflammation.
So what is cholesterol?
You’ve probably heard about cholesterol in a negative context — i.e., cholesterol is bad for your heart. However, that’s not the complete picture.
Cholesterol is a substance the body uses to build structures and processes. It’s mostly created by your liver and is used to construct cells across the body, supply us with vitamins, and help create hormones.
The liver creates some cholesterol independently, but we also get cholesterol from foods that have saturated fat or other fatty acids. The liver supplies us with virtually all the cholesterol our body needs to function, so our dietary choices affect our levels greatly.
It’s the surplus cholesterol that we ingest through our diet that starts to cause problems with our health, revealing risks to our heart health.
What Are the Types of Cholesterol?
Given its fundamental purpose in the bodybuilding cells, amongst other things–one begins to wonder what the problem with cholesterol is in the first place.
It’s necessarily a bad thing, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Cholesterol is a perfect example of that. What’s more, cholesterol is a term that is often used to describe a variety of different blood lipids like HDL, LDL, and triglycerides.
When your physician recommends that you lower your cholesterol levels, this is probably the type of cholesterol they’re referring to.
Low-density lipoprotein is a lipoprotein that is able to transport loads of cholesterol throughout our blood vessels — an important function seeing how cholesterol can be an integral building block to our body.
But when we have too much LDL cholesterol in our bloodstream, our bloodstream can get blocked up like a traffic jam. When that happens, plaque builds along the arterial wall.
The cholesterol-rich LDL becomes a hindrance to our bloodstream as it piles up and creates blockages, increasing our risk of heart failure.
But cholesterol isn’t all bad. Not just because of the role it plays as a building block for all sorts of things in our body, but because of a certain type of cholesterol that actively manages excessive amounts of blood lipids in our body.
High-density lipoprotein is like an anti-cholesterol. It’s a blood lipid that helps scrub other types of cholesterol from our bloodstream, preventing those blockages created by piled-up LDL cholesterols.
Because of its “bad” cholesterol-removing function, healthy cholesterol levels don’t just entail a lower LDL cholesterol level in your blood, but higher levels of HDL.
What Are Some High Cholesterol Health Risks?
Seeing as excessive LDL cholesterol levels can leave plaque build up in the arteries, one of the most pressing health complications associated with high cholesterol is cardiovascular disease.
Atherosclerosis is a condition that describes plaque build ups from cholesterol and other substances in the heart and is frequently associated with high cholesterol.
Cardiovascular conditions associated with high cholesterol levels have been linked to higher risks of heart attacks, obesity, high blood pressure, and strokes.
The constriction of blood flow caused by plaque is frequently pointed to as one of the prevailing reasons why high cholesterol becomes a danger. To say the steady, effective pumping of blood through the body is essential to our health is an understatement.
That’s where inflammation may come in.
What Is Inflammation?
How could our cholesterol levels interact with inflammation? To see how the two may be associated, it’s worthwhile to get a better understanding of what inflammation is, how it works, and why it matters.
Inflammation is a response from your immune system when an outside agent — like a virus or bacteria — enters the body. It also kicks when you sustain an injury and the body needs to heal itself.
You’re likely familiar with this role of inflammation on some level, even if you didn’t realize it before.
If you’ve ever gotten a scratch or cut on your body, the resulting redness and soreness is a result of the inflammatory process. The body sends white blood cells and other antibody types like cytokines to the area in need of assistance. There, these antibodies contain the outside agent or isolate the area to promote healing.
Inflammation helps the body address our current ailments, from outside pathogens to internal injury. It’s a key process of our immune system, though the results of it may be uncomfortable. Inflammation in action may result in pain, redness, and swelling.
What Health Risks Are Associated with Inflammation?
Inflammation is an absolutely necessary process for the healthy function of our bodies. However, there are health risks associated with chronic inflammation — regular and sustained inflammatory responses in the body even when it isn’t necessary.
Chronic inflammation is an example of too much of a good thing, as is the case with high cholesterol. We need inflammation to fight off outside agents and repair our bodies, but our immune system can go haywire due to certain conditions, activating the inflammatory response when it doesn’t need to.
The health risks associated with chronic inflammation include Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, asthma, and heart disease. Chronic inflammation overstresses the body and may, in effect, erode its proper function.
This weakening of bodily function, and the increased cardiovascular risk, has led researchers to examine how inflammation may affect our cholesterol levels.
What’s the Relationship Between Inflammation and Cholesterol?
To begin with, both high cholesterol and chronic inflammation have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. However, their connection in this regard may go deeper than that.
It’s been found that people with inflammatory disorders, the kinds of conditions that result in chronic inflammation, tend to have higher levels of cholesterol. This suggests that increased inflammatory responses are associated with high cholesterol levels.
People with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and psoriasis demonstrated unhealthy cholesterol levels. In people with rheumatoid arthritis, their c-reactive proteins — proteins associated with inflammation — were found to predict lower levels of HDL cholesterol and higher levels of LDL.
Vascular inflammation may also affect cholesterol-related conditions like hypertension and atherosclerosis. The buildup of plaque on the arterial wall can only worsen the swelling of vascular inflammation.
What’s more, the body perceives any plaque build up as a foreign entity, which may be an inflammatory marker.
While this direct connection between cholesterol and inflammation isn’t completely confirmed, a class of cholesterol-lowering medications, called statins, has been shown to fight inflammation — though the exact reasons for this aren’t completely certain.
Still, there are encouraging clinical trials ongoing exploring this relationship.
Does Inflammation Affect Cholesterol?
The cholesterol levels of folks with inflammatory disorders suggest that inflammation does indeed affect our cholesterol levels for the worse. Beyond that, cardiology experts haven't conclusively drawn a direct connection between inflammation and cholesterol or vice versa.
Nevertheless, these are two areas in our health that contribute to increased risk of cardiovascular events.
When it comes to lowering inflammation and cholesterol levels, dietary changes, more exercise, and less stress can be effective ways to live healthier lives. The American Heart Association reports that the simple inclusion of more fruits and veggies in our diet can have a positive impact on our heart health.
Something as simple as removing pro-inflammatory foods like sugar from your diet could make a difference in your cardiovascular health. And including more antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory foods like fruits and veggies could also help you consume less saturated fat, killing two birds with one stone.
As with any health choice you make, you should consult a healthcare professional before making any serious changes.
Zizi Makes Healthier Lifestyles Easy
Our commitment at Zizi is to help folks concerned about their heart make the lifestyle changes they need to prevent increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
With Zizi, you get access to a complete program designed to lower your cholesterol naturally. We provide you supplements shown to reduce cholesterol levels in addition to a monthly at-home test kit so you can regularly keep on top of your heart health.
Learn more about lowering your cholesterol in 30 days with Zizi’s Heart Health Reset program here, or your money back.
What is Cholesterol? | The American Heart Association
What is LDL Cholesterol? | The Family Heart Assoiciation
HDL Cholesterol: How to boost your “good” cholesterol | Mayo Clinic
Inflammation | Cleveland Clinic
The Effect of Inflammation and Infection on Lipids and Lipoproteins | The National Library of Medicine
Inflammation and Heart Disease | The American Heart Association
Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Mortality | The American Heart Association
Association between inflammation and systolic blood pressure in RA compared to patients without RA | BioMed Center
Inflammation may be a bridge connecting hypertension and atherosclerosis | The National Library of Medicine | The National Library of Medicine