28 Jul 2017 --- New research from the University of Alberta and McGill University has discovered a direct link between calcium and cholesterol. The discovery means that, beyond helping with strong bones and teeth, calcium could also lead to new ways of treating high blood cholesterol, a known risk factor for developing heart disease.
The researchers began their work after making an unexpected observation while studying the role of a calcium-binding protein. They found out that there was an extreme rise of blood cholesterol concentration in mice when the protein was not present.
Following up on the protein observation, Professor Marek Michalak of the University of Alberta teamed up with graduate student Wen-An Wang and Professor Luis Agellon from McGill University. They combined their efforts with Professor Joohong Ahnn from Hanyang University in South Korea and found out that the physiological link between calcium and cholesterol is also preserved in worms.
“There is a mechanism inside the cell that senses when there is not enough cholesterol present and turns on the machinery to make more,” says Michalak, a distinguished university professor at the University of Alberta’s department of biochemistry. “What we found is that a lack of calcium can hide cholesterol from this machinery. If you lose calcium, your synthetic machinery thinks there’s no cholesterol, and it starts making more even if there is already enough.”
High blood cholesterol is a known to be linked to heart disease, so the research could be significant for those with potential cardiac issues in the future. “Factors that affect blood cholesterol concentration have been studied for a long time,” says Agellon, a professor at McGill's School of Human Nutrition. “The general belief was that cholesterol controlled its own synthesis inside of cells, and then we discovered in our labs that calcium can control that function too. Finding this link potentially opens a door to developing new ways of controlling cholesterol metabolism.”
The researchers consider their finding a significant step toward developing different approaches to patient care in the future, but there is more work to be done. They are now looking to discover the common factor that allows calcium and cholesterol to communicate with each other in the cell. They have received a four-year grant worth CA$456,000 (about US$365,200) from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to continue their work.
The potential utility of calcium is the latest discovery in the ongoing fight against cardiovascular troubles. Research into the LPLDL probiotic, presented at Vitafoods Europe in May 2017, has recently demonstrated that it is a safe, natural ingredient that can also reduce cholesterol. Meanwhile, the American Heart Association has made it clear that it still recommends replacing saturated fats with poly- and mono-unsaturated vegetable oil to help prevent heart disease.