The knowledge gap between why people with low 'bad' cholesterol levels are still susceptible to heart attacks could be near to closing with breakthrough research from a nutritional food scientist suggesting that the little known chylomicrons and their pathways could play a key role in understanding cholesterol.
And the knowledge procured could lead to a new direction for product development in the soaring area of functional foods.
Dr. Spencer Proctor at the University of Alberta in Canada believes that understanding chylomicrons and their metabolism may answer all questions about cholesterol and the role it plays in the development of diabetes, obesity, and other cardiovascular diseases.
Chylomicrons, metabolised balls of fat and cholesterol that enter your blood stream through your intestines after a meal, gather on arterial walls and may be as dangerous or more dangerous than low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in causing strokes and heart attacks, says Dr. Proctor.
Because chylomicrons are processed so quickly, when a patient gives a blood sample after fasting for 12 hours or more, chylomicron cholesterol will usually comprise just three per cent of all the cholesterol in the sample.
The UN-backed World Health Organisation estimates that 16.7 million - or 29.2 per cent of total global deaths - result from the various forms of cardiovascular disease.
In parallel, foods designed to help prevent heart disease are growing at an annual compound rate of 7.6 per cent, according to Datamonitor, predicted to reach sales of £145 million (€212m) in 2007 in the UK alone.
"We were the first in the world to label chylomicrons remnants with florescence and visually show that these particles can accumulate in arterial vessels," comments Dr. Proctor in a University of Alberta report.
"Our next goal is to figure out why they get stuck and whether or not they play a significant role in the development of coronary artery disease - our suspicion now is that they do," he adds.
LDL, or 'bad' cholesterol, is the most prevalent type of cholesterol, usually comprising about 70 per cent of all cholesterols found in blood samples taken from patients who have fasted for 12 hours or more.
For this reason, most researchers believe LDL cholesterol, which is produced in the liver and delivered to the rest of the body over a period of days after food is ingested, is the leading culprit among cholesterols in the development of coronary artery disease.
But science has yet to explain why 40 per cent of people who are highly vulnerable to suffering a stroke or heart attack have low or normal LDL levels.
Proctor believes chylomicrons and their remnants are the key to solving this problem.
Using imaging tools, Proctor and colleagues tracked the formation and delivery pathways of chylomicrons in rabbits.
Their research showed that chylomicron remnants form smaller lipoproteins, which can build up more quickly in arteries than any other type of cholesterol-carriers, including LDL.
Full findings are published in the November issue of Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.