In the United States alone, about 610,000 individuals will die every year because of heart disease.
What this means is that one in four deaths in the country is related to people’s cardiovascular health – or rather its lack.
With dieting, modern lifestyles having radically transformed in the last 20 years, scientists are working hard to find better cardiovascular disease predictors and help people like you and me live long, healthy lives.
The atherogenic index of plasma is becoming an increasingly useful formula for predicting your cardiovascular disease risk.
What Is the Atherogenic Index And Why It Is So Important To Your Health
Knowing your atherogenic index can help you understand how healthy or at risk of atherosclerosis (arteriosclerosis) you are.
When you deposit abnormal amounts of fat in your arteries, your risk for atherosclerosis; the gradual narrowing of your arteries that could eventually lead to heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases increases.
While many people focus on their LDL and HDL, their bad and good cholesterol as an indicator of just how healthy their heart is, another way of measuring cardiovascular health is the atherogenic index of plasma (AIP).
When fat is accumulated in the inner linings of your arteries causes what scientists call ‘atheromas’ ; small lumps of fat.
These atheromas however with the passing of time and an atherogenic diet (more on that later) begin to absorb minerals from what you eat turning into what’s commonly known as plaque.
Over time, your arterial plaques becomes harder and bigger resulting in the narrowing and ‘clogging’ of your arteries.
In other words, an atherogenic diet and conditions like smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes can cause atherogenesis that could later result in arteriosclerosis.
What is the atherogenic index of plasma?
Instead of looking at classic ratios of HDL/Total Cholesterol, now scientists propose that we instead bring to the spotlight triglycerides.
The atherogenic index of the plasma is calculated through the formula of log(TG/HDL-C) where your triglycerides levels are divided by your good cholesterol.
Naturally, the lower the ratio, the better news for your heart health, because that would mean that your HDL, your good cholesterol, which protects against heart disease by carrying the LDL away from your heart, lowers your atherogenic index.
In other words, the HDL is anti-atherogenic, it doesn’t cause cardiovascular disease but rather protects you against it.
How to measure / read your atherogenic index of plasma (AIP)?
When the resulting value is under 0.11 the individual is ranked as having low risk for cardiovascular disease, when its between 0.11 and 0.24 they’re in in the medium risk for heart disease and those with more than 0.24 are classified as having an elevated risk for CVD.
Several scientists agree that looking at the AIP is a valid indicator doctors need to check when seeing patients.
When assessed along with a number of other cardiovascular disease factors, the AIP can offer actionable insights as to what kind of dietary and lifestyle changes a person must pursue to improve their heart health.
The atherogenic index gives us a clue on how big lipoprotein particles in your blood are. Scientists argue that smaller lipoprotein particles are more likely to oxidize compared to larger in size lipoprotein particles and hence more unhealthy.
When an individual possesses small, dense lipoprotein, and has also elevated triglycerides and low HDL this can be a valid indicator of increased CVD risk.
We’re used to talking about LDL being a red flag, but now a more precise, more important marker; the AIP is gaining momentum.
Many researchers suggest that the atherogenic index can be a useful predictor of cardiovascular risk compared to just measuring lipid concentrations such as the LDL and the HDL cholesterol levels.
This study in the Lipid World Journal found that the AIP can be a valid way to measure atherogenic dyslipidaemia.
Atherogenic Lipoproteins: The Good and The Bad
Cholesterol because it is made of fat it cannot mix with water so in order to be carried around in your bloodstream it attaches itself to lipoproteins, tiny fat molecules.
Lipoproteins are fats or lipids you take from foods high in cholesterol. One such lipoprotein you’re familiar with is the low-density lipoprotein, or ‘bad’ cholesterol as most people have come to call it.
Depending on your family’s medical record, you might be genetically pre-disposed to have high LDL, however what you eat and how much you exercise have also a vital role to play.
When people talk about atherogenesis, the creation of atheromas in your arteries what they essentially mean is that the LDL which carries cholesterol accumulates in the inner walls of your arteries and starts to cause plaque.
What the good cholesterol does is take the LDL toward the liver and away from the heart so it doesn’t wreck havoc with your heart health.
Essentially, the LDL is an atherogenic lipoprotein whereas, the HDL is an anti-atherogenic.
Atherogenic Diet: The foods you should ban from your diet today
An atherogenic diet is a diet rich in foods that contain the bad cholesterol.
Understanding the extent to which Western diets and lifestyles run rife in atherogenic foods is the first step to eliminating these from your diet.
Eliminating saturated fats from your diet will lower your atherogenic index and promote heart health when it’s part of an active lifestyle.
Saturated fats are mostly animal-derived foods. Think, veal, beef, pork and lamb but also diary products like butter, milk, cream, egg yolk, poultry fat and most people’s favourite, cheese.
These are unsaturated fatty acids and are commonly found in highly processed foods. Think margarine and shortening, doughnuts, crackers, cakes, store-bought croissants and other desserts and confectioneries, French fries and the majority of cooking oils.
These foods are atherogenic because they reduce your good cholesterol and elevate your bad cholesterol setting in motion the process of atherogenesis.
Say no to fast food and processed foods
Fast food chains might offer an affordable meal for busy people of all ages but the toll one has to pay with their health is multiple times higher.
Fried and deep fried food is extremely atherogenic because the oils and shortenings used to fry foods like chicken and potatoes are packed with saturated fats and trans fats.
Reduce Sugar & Fructose Intake
The American Heart Association (AHA) says that just 5% of your calories should be derived from sugars – that’s less than roughly 9 teaspoons for men and about 6 for women.
Sugar is added in pretty much everything we eat and drink.
Monitor your beverages intake and make sure you read the label for the sugar amount in everything you buy at the grocery store.
Ingredients that end in “ose” such as dextrose, glucose, lactose, maltose, and sucrose are just other types of sugar hiding in unsuspected foods!
The many faces of sugar
Fructose has been linked with high levels of triglycerides. Fruit contains fructose with dates and raisins being the most fructose-packed of them all.
Opt for low-fructose fresh fruit like strawberries, bananas and peaches. Needless to say, high-fructose corn syrup should be completely banned from your diet.
Foods That Lower Your Atherogenic Index
Increase Fibre Intake
Individuals with low intake of fibre often have elevated triglycerides and low levels of the good cholesterol.
Fruit and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and other goodies your body is thirsty for. More importantly, they are packed with fibre which studies have shown helps lower your cholesterol.
Consume Healthy, Omega-3 fatty acids
These fatty acids have the scientifically proven power to lower your triglycerides. You can take the three types of Omega-3 fatty acids, ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) from walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, anchovies, tuna, salmon, mackerel, sardines and egg whites.
The atherogenic index offers a picture of your lipid profile and when assessed with other metabolic and medical conditions can be a valid predictor of heart disease.