I wrote a blog post about how Lupus can affect the heart. One of my followers asked the question about the link between Lupus and high cholesterol. I find this topic interesting since autoimmune disorders can affect just about every function of the body. So, I started researching this topic and this is what I found.
Studies have shown a correlation between atherosclerosis, and specifically coronary artery disease, and lupus. The exact cause of this relationship is not completely clear. Like diabetes, there is a predisposition to developing atherosclerosis just by having lupus. – Dr. Robert Katz
The effect of autoimmune diseases on heart risk depends on which disease you have. For example, a recent study reported that people with:
- lupus are up to 50 times more likely to have a heart attack than those without the disease.
- People with Lupus, have been shown to have a 4-8 times greater chance of developing CVD.
- other research reports that heart attack risk is doubled in those with Sjögren’s syndrome.
- People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) not only have a reduced life expectancy, but CVD is their leading cause of death.
However, a systematic review that compared 156,108 people with various autoimmune diseases to 373,851 healthy people of the same age and gender found that overall, those with autoimmune conditions had a 20 percent rise in risk for developing CVD and/or type 2 diabetes. Of all the conditions the researchers studied, the one with the least cardiovascular impact was Crohn’s disease (a bowel disorder), which hiked CVD and diabetes risk by 6 percent over an 11-year period.
What is Atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque builds up inside your arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart and other parts of your body. Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances found in the blood.
If you have lupus Dr. Katz recommends:
- It is wise for you to know your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol (the protective one), and triglyceride levels.
- The LDL cholesterol should be less than 130
- For patients at greater risk for heart disease less than 100. (For example, in patients with diabetes and certain other disorders, keeping the LDL cholesterol less than 100 is recommended.)
- Triglyceride levels should be less than 150.
The Link Between Cholesterol and Inflammation
Researchers have identified cholesterol’s partner in crime as inflammation: the flood of white blood cells and chemicals that our immune system unleashes to ward off damage or infection. Cholesterol wouldn’t be nearly as dangerous without this process, which is thought to play an essential role in atherosclerosis, the hardening that occurs when low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as bad cholesterol, builds up in the arteries.
When high levels of cholesterol occur in the bloodstream, excess LDL begins to seep into the inner wall of the artery. This sets off an inflammatory response, which actually accelerates the accumulation of cholesterol in the artery wall. This in turn produces more inflammation.
Now people are looking at inflammation as contributing to the risk of common conditions, like heart disease.
The highest risk for cardiovascular disease and/or diabetes was found in autoimmune disease sufferers with the most severe inflammation.
While having an autoimmune disease can raise risk for developing CVD–the leading killer of American men and women–the good news is that there are a variety of effective, science-backed treatments that help you avoid CVD.
Inflammation can be managed through all the steps that you already know about:
“The key to restoring good health to America is getting people to tune in to the connection between the dynamic, hour-to-hour nature of inflammation and their general health and well-being of their heart, their brain, their blood.” “From a health standpoint, nothing is more important than keeping those inflammation levels down.” Dr. James O’Keefe
Paul Ridker’s work and that of other scientists carefully and methodically laid the groundwork for the idea that giving people treatment that would quiet their immune systems would reduce their risk of heart disease.
As basic scientists were revealing that inflammation played a role in the biology of the causes of heart disease, clinical scientists were showing that blood tests of inflammation could indicate levels of risk. People who had a more revved-up immune system had a higher risk of heart disease. And this risk was in addition to what was indicated by traditional risk factors like smoking and high cholesterol levels. They found that statin drugs, which are highly effective in reducing heart disease risk, actually not only lowered cholesterol, but also calmed inflammation. And so many speculated that the benefit of statins may also derive from what they do to the immune system.
Paul Ridker is the principal investigator of the CANTOS trial and a cardiologist at Harvard, is the leading proponent of this inflammation hypothesis.
This information is very interesting and kind of scary for me. It gives a very good argument as to why those of us who are living with autoimmune disorders really need to focus on managing our inflammation.