As if we had not enough to worry about when it comes to cholesterol levels, now we learn to our dismay, about oxycholesterol, a new kind of cholesterol that can add insult to injury by raising our bad cholesterol.
This type of cholesterol is found in certain foods and can increase our risk for heart disease.
Oxidation of cholesterol
Regular cholesterol does not damage our arteries; it only damages them when it is oxidized. Actually, regular cholesterol arrives at the “scene of the crime” (damaged site of the artery) with the best intentions, trying to patch the wound. Of course, in the process of repairing the artery, plaque starts forming and blocking the blood vessel.
Scientists have known for years that a reaction between fats and oxygen, a process termed oxidation, produces oxycholesterol (cholesterol that is oxidized) in the body.
Oxycholesterol is also found in foods in which fats are subjected to heating and exposure to the oxygen of the air during food processing, cooking, or preservation. Until now, much of the research on this type of oxidation has focused mainly on the harmful effects oxycholesterol has in our cells, DNA, and atherosclerosis.
But, recently, scientists from China have presented a study at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society demonstrating that oxycholesterol boots total cholesterol levels more than the non-oxidized cholesterol.
The study showed that cholesterol rose up to 22% more in hamsters that were fed oxycholesterol than in hamsters eating non-oxidized cholesterol. The oxycholesterol group showed a greater deposition of cholesterol in the lining of their arteries and a tendency to develop larger deposits of cholesterol.
According to Chen, the leading researcher of the study, oxycholesterol causes also the arteries to be less elastic, thus impairing their ability to expand. Arteries need to have elasticity to allow blood to circulate freely through the arteries and to prevent clots from blocking the blood vessels.
Where do we find oxycholesterol?
Oxycholesterol is found mainly in fried and processed foods as well as in products containing trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils. Some of the foods that may include oxycholesterol are:
- Snack foods: crackers, potato chips
- Margarine: the stick type
- Baked goods containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils: cookies, cakes, croissants, and the like.
- Fried foods: French fries and any fried food served at fast food restaurants.
Stay away from this type of foods
A good practice will be not to ask for any fried food at any restaurant, period. If you feel you need some fried food here and there, fry it at home but use only extra virgin olive oil. I barely fry foods myself, but when I do, I never use the oil more than twice. The Olive Oil Council states that olive oil can be used four or five times and still be safe. I, personally, feel that’s too many.
Lack of vitamin B12 consequences
Another way you may end up with oxycholesterol in your system is if you have a shortage of vitamins B12, pyridoxine (B6) or folic acid in your diet. This lack of vitamins causes homocysteine, a highly damaging component that builds up in the bloodstream, converting cholesterol into oxycholesterol with the subsequent risk for cardiovascular disease.
What can you do to prevent oxycholesterol from forming in your body?
- Avoid foods that contain this damaging type of cholesterol. See list above
- Include in your diet adequate amounts of antioxidants. Antioxidants help blocking the oxidation process that forms oxycholesterol.
Final Thoughts on Oxycholesterol
Please, don’t rush to your health store to pile up on bottles of antioxidants; they won’t help you much. Just include in your diet plenty of fruits, vegetables and grains. Remember that prevention is the name of the game and that there is a lot you can do to protect your health with natural foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.