I know it’s also the title of a 60’s “spaghetti Western” movie, but when it comes to your cholesterol, heart researchers have actually classified cholesterol as these 3 types. Unlike the movie though, where the “Ugly” Tuco Ramirez (Eli Wallach) was only a fictitious character, ugly cholesterol is a real-life killer. It not only causes heart disease but ups your risk for a sudden heart attack. Let me explain what you can do about this dangerous type of cholesterol.
You likely already know that having high cholesterol is not good for your heart or your arteries. Your doctor may have also told you about the difference between HDL “good” cholesterol and LDL “bad” cholesterol. Having higher “bad” LDL cholesterol puts you at greater risk for heart disease. Yet, as this is very recent heart research news, you may not have heard about high “ugly” cholesterol which is even worse than bad LDL.
High ugly, or remnant, cholesterol results from too much blood fats (triglycerides) left circulating through arteries. These remnant blood fats are caused from overweight/obesity and not burning enough of them for energy through exercise. Researchers now say that it is this type of cholesterol that really is the culprit in creating atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) which greatly increases your risk for early death.
Recently, heart researchers out of the University of Copenhagen published an article in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology detailing the findings of their study of 73,000 Danish men and women. That study revealed that increased levels of “ugly” cholesterol more than triples the risk of developing ischemic heart disease – the worldwide leading cause of death.
Ischemic heart disease is caused from not enough oxygen getting to heart muscle. Oxygen is blocked from the heart due to plaque-clogged and narrowed coronary arteries. Triglyceride blood fats, or ugly cholesterol, are the primary building block of these plaques. According to the World Health Organization, 17.9 million people a year die from this type of heart disease.
If you have high ugly cholesterol, it’s in your best interest to do everything possible to lower it and add years to your life. Triglyceride levels are considered high over 200. Yet, lowering ugly cholesterol is not rocket science. It basically just comes down to reducing your triglyceride levels most often by these 3 things:
The Danish study mentioned also cited some success with using statins and fibrate-type drugs to lower ugly cholesterol faster. Your doctor may possibly want you to try one of these short term. However, these drugs can have some untoward side effects and the American Medical Association only recommends their use after all natural methods have been tried.
1. Lose weight. As the Danish study shows, obesity is the biggest cause of high triglyceride/ugly cholesterol. Obesity is most often caused by poor diet and little-no exercise. Lose excess fat by decreasing your total calorie intake to that required to maintain a normal weight. Ex: To weigh 140, decrease your calories to 1400 (desired weight x 10) daily.
2. Decrease refined sugar. Triglycerides – ugly cholesterol – are created by high sugar diets in tandem with high bad fats. Together, they cause a “triple glycerol” very dense fat. Sugar also causes spikes in blood plasma triglycerides. Decrease sugar intake to 20 grams a day (read labels) until you get to a normal weight.
3. Boost good fats. Replace too many Omega-6 “salad oils” like safflower, sunflower, corn oil, and/or trans-fats with good fats (Omega-3 fish oils, olive, flaxseed, walnut oils).
4. Increase low glycemic index foods/proteins. Low GI foods help stabilize blood sugar spikes so you stop storing fat and start burning it. Low GI foods like proteins and some grains (barley, wheat bran etc.) and legumes (kidney beans, black beans, etc.) have 0-low sugar content. Get a good glycemic index/sugar content food counter and build your meals around these foods.
5. Eat more fiber. Fiber whisks bad fats out of your digestive system before they can create problems in your arteries. It also helps keep blood sugar levels stable. Aim for at least 30 grams a day from high fiber (0-low sugar content) cereals, fruits and vegetables.
6. Exercise. Your body uses triglycerides for energy. If you don’t burn them in regular exercise, guess where they go? At least 30 minutes x 5 days a week helps decrease triglyceride levels. This can be aerobic machines, swimming, dance workouts, walking, bicycling, running, basketball, whatever you enjoy as long as you’re moving with a moderate fast pace.
7. Limit alcohol. Moderate to heavy drinking can cause high triglycerides. Why? Alcohol is metabolized in your body, ultimately, as sugar.
Although you may have an “ugly” villain lurking in your blood vessels right now, taking action to get rid of it is crucial. You’ll not only create a healthier heart and body, but you’ll go a long way to ensure your long and healthy life!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.