High cholesterol: More than just a cardiovascular risk

April 30, 2020

Are high cholesterol levels also associated with other diseases?

Today, raised cholesterol is known to contribute to a number of cardiovascular-related diseases, including heart disease and stroke. According to the World Health Organization, high cholesterol is estimated to cause 2.6 million deaths and 29.7 million disability-adjusted life years every year. While we know cholesterol and cardiovascular disease (CVD) has a causal link, are high cholesterol levels also associated with other diseases?

Cholesterol is a vital waxy substance found in the blood. It comes in two forms: low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is the unhealthy kind of cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the healthy kind. The body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells-but too much LDL cholesterol can develop fatty deposits in the blood vessels and cause atherosclerosis, restricting blood flow.

Recent research has revealed that high cholesterol may be associated with a range of other serious, non-cardiovascular diseases such as prostate cancer and glaucoma. In a study reported in Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases1, men with highest cholesterol levels had up to 27% increased overall risk of prostate cancer, compared with those with lower levels after a three-year lag time. And according to a study published by JAMA Opthalmology2, researchers found that for every 20-point increase in total cholesterol, there was a 7% increase in glaucoma risk.

Cholesterol also has a major impact on the endocrine system. The endocrine system uses cholesterol to make hormones such as oestrogen, testosterone, and cortisol. However, hormones can also affect the body’s cholesterol levels. Blood levels of LDL cholesterol increase dramatically in women during the menopause, mainly because the body is producing less oestrogen. While science is still uncovering all the actions of oestrogen in the body, studies have shown that the hormone impacts almost every tissue or organ system. Oestrogen is known to act on the liver to cause a reduction in total cholesterol levels in the body, increasing the amount of HDL and decreasing LDL cholesterol.

 

Modern Cholesterol Management

Evidence like this means managing and lowering cholesterol is more important than ever. Most of the time, diet is the key culprit to high LDL cholesterol levels, meaning it may be managed or prevented with first-line lifestyle changes. This could involve exercise, a healthy diet, stopping smoking, and preventive healthcare for women looking to prepare for the menopause. However, extensive evidence has revealed that implementing lifestyle changes isn’t adequate in many cases.

This revelation has turned interest towards genetic research and the development of genetic blood tests which could help diagnose people with inherited heart conditions, as well as the use of highly researched drugs such as statins, commonly used to treat high cholesterol. However, while drug treatments are considered to be the most effective method to lower cholesterol, their adverse side effects may limit the efficacy of their widespread use-therefore natural, holistic solutions to aid with lowering and managing cholesterol are in high demand.

One complementary approach to cholesterol management involves our very own intestinal tracts. The human gut microbiome is a key link between the body, its genetic genome, and the environment. Studies have revealed strong links between gut microbiota and lipid absorption and deposition.

The gut microbiome works with the liver in a continuous, two-way relationship through what is known as the microbiome-liver axis. The liver produces bile salts from cholesterol to aid digestion which a range of microbes can modify to produce certain chemicals to aid wellbeing. This factor is vital for managing cholesterol, as studies show that the gut microbiome can affect blood pressure and lipids metabolism via this microbiome-liver pathway; these transformed bile acids, which are likely to be excreted, must be replenished via available cholesterol, thereby decreasing the cholesterol pool. The gut microbes may therefore impact the circulating level of cholesterol.

Discoveries about the gut microbiome’s key role in cholesterol management are enabling microbiome experts to deliver non-pharmaceutical, science-backed solutions to aid in cholesterol management.

High cholesterol contributes to cardiovascular health but it’s not the only risk factor. As we discover more about the impact of high cholesterol, consumers must make lowering and managing their cholesterol a number one priority. Thankfully, developments in microbiome modulation are transforming the health landscape and offering consumers a novel and natural way to do this.

 

Steve Prescott is CEO of ProBiotix Health. Prior to joining ProBiotix, Prescott held previous positions at probiotic firm Probi AB as vice president and at Dupont as a global probiotic product manager. ProBiotix Health is a subsidiary of Optibiotix. For more information about Optibiotix, please visit www.optibiotix.com.

References:

1. Murtola TJ et al. “Serum cholesterol and prostate cancer risk in the Finnish randomized study of screening for prostate cancer.”Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases, vol. 22 (2019), 66-76
2. Jae H et al. “Association of statin use and high serum cholesterol levels with risk of primary open-angle glaucoma.” JAMA Ophthalmology, vol. 137, no. 7 (July 1, 2019): 756-765