Having high LDL cholesterol levels can place you at risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Current guidelines recommend that your LDL levels should be below 100 mg/dL. However, not only does having high LDL cholesterol levels place you at risk for heart disease, the type of LDL particles circulating in your blood can also make a difference. LDL particles can range between large and buoyant to small.
Smaller LDL particles are more likely to become oxidized, making them more detrimental to your cardiovascular health. Oxidized LDL can produce inflammation in arteries that supply blood to your organs and other tissues, thus promoting atherosclerosis and increasing your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
The oxidation of LDL is thought to occur when the LDL cholesterol particles in your body react with free radicals. The oxidized LDL itself then becomes more reactive with the surrounding tissues, which can produce tissue damage. Some of the things that appear to increase levels of oxidized LDL include:
Consuming a diet that is high in trans fats
Having poorly controlled diabetes
Being diagnosed with metabolic syndrome
Once LDL becomes oxidized, it goes directly within the inner lining (endothelium) of any artery in the body, including the carotid artery, coronary artery or the arteries that supply your legs and arms with blood.
Once there, it encourages the accumulation of inflammatory cells, such as macrophages, and platelets at the site of the vessel and promotes their adhesion to the damaged area. More macrophages, cholesterol and other lipids begin to accumulate at the site, forming a plaque that begins to grow thicker.
Over time, this can slow – or completely restrict – the amount of blood flow that travels to one or more areas of the body. This can result in a variety of health conditions, including coronary heart disease, peripheral vascular disease or dementia.