Based on findings of a recent study researchers say cholesterol may be actually needed to help insulate the nerves and keep cells healthy , however researchers also say that too much of it could end up in it being warehoused inside the arteries, where it builds up as plaque and can cause heart attacks and strokes.
Researchers suggest an enzyme called ACAT2 may be to blame for the build-up. ACAT2 is one of four enzymes responsible for helping cholesterol leave the liver, where it is made, and travel to other parts of the body. ACAT2 most often helps cholesterol travel to the arteries, where it builds up into the deadly plaque.
After studying mice who were genetically altered not to produce ACAT2 researchers came to the conclusion that the mice had 85-percent less hardening of the arteries than mice who still produced the enzyme. When the normal mice were given a molecule known to block the effects of ACAT2, the same results were seen.
Researchers then studied the enzyme in monkeys, looking specifically at whether certain foods might increase the effects of ACAT2 on cholesterol. It was seen that Monkeys who were fed diets high in monounsaturated fats like those contained in olive oil and nuts -- so-called "good" fats -- actually had the same rates of heart disease as monkeys who ate saturated, or so-called "bad" fats. Thus researchers suspect that monounsaturated fats, while reducing levels of "bad" cholesterol, are more susceptible to ACAT2.
Thus in conclusion researchers say they hope that in the future their findings may one day lead to a drug to target ACAT2 in humans, thereby reducing the incidence of heart disease caused by plaque build-up in the arteries.