Paper in American Journal of Cardiology study states that it injures arteries and enters bloodstream.

Cholesterol crystals can disrupt plaque in the cardiovascular system and trigger clot formation, report researchers from Michigan State University (MSU).

In the April issue of the American Journal of Cardiology the investigators report finding that as cholesterol builds up along the wall of an artery, it crystallizes from a liquid to a solid state and then expands.

“As the cholesterol crystallizes, two things can happen,” says George Abela, M.D., cardiology division chief in MSU’s College of Human Medicine. “If it’s a big pool of cholesterol, it will expand, causing the cap of the deposit to tear off in the arterial wall. Or the crystals, which are sharp, needle-like structures, poke their way through the cap covering the cholesterol deposit, like nails through wood.”

The crystals then work their way into the bloodstream. Combined with damage to an artery, they disrupt plaque and force the body to create dangerous, potentially fatal clots.

The scientists also found that cholesterol crystals released in the bloodstream during a cardiac attack or stroke can damage artery linings much further away from the site of the attack, leaving survivors at even greater risk.

The team studied coronary arteries and carotid plaques from patients who died of cardiovascular attacks. When comparing their findings against a control group, they found evidence of cholesterol crystals disrupting plaque. This discovery occurred after the researchers had found a new way to preserve tissue after an autopsy, using a vacuum dry method instead of an alcohol solution. The previous alcohol solution method dissolved the crystals and prevented researchers and doctors from witnessing their impact.

The paper is titled, “Effect of Cholesterol Crystals on Plaques and Intima in Arteries of Patients With Acute Coronary and Cerebrovascular Syndromes.”

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