Listen up! How sound waves could be used to lower cholesterol levels
A ONE-OFF, painless blast of ultrasound may be a new way to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure and cut the risk of heart disease.
A significant number of people have high cholesterol and around one in four has high blood pressure. Both are key risk factors for heart disease.
Currently, treatment involves adopting a healthy lifestyle – not smoking, eating a healthy diet, exercising and limiting alcohol – and medication such as cholesterol-lowering statins.
But researchers are investigating a new approach that blasts fat around the kidneys with ultrasound. This excess fat – known as perirenal fat – has been shown to be a key player in the risk of cardiovascular disease.
It is linked to high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and destroying much of that fat significantly lowers cholesterol in the long-term, animal studies have found.
Now, researchers at Nanjing Medical University in China are carrying out a trial to see if blasting this fat with ultrasound will have benefits in humans, too.
A hand-held device is used to fire a beam of highly focused, high-intensity ultrasound at the fatty tissue around the kidneys. The one-off procedure lasts a few minutes. Eighty-four patients with a history of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, who also have significant deposits of perirenal fat, are taking part in a trial where the treatment will be compared to a placebo.
Doctors will check their cholesterol levels and blood pressure readings before – and three months after – treatment.
Perirenal fat is a form of visceral fat – fat stored within the abdominal cavity close to internal organs, including the liver. It is sometimes referred to as active fat, because research has shown that it plays a key role in affecting how hormones work.
For example, high quantities of visceral fat are associated with insulin resistance. This can lead to the onset of diabetes.
Fat around the kidneys is thought to be a unique type of visceral fat, as it has a network of blood vessels and nerves which researchers suggest means it may be especially active.
It secretes compounds called adipokines, some of which cause inflammation that can lead to a narrowing of blood vessels.
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