What's the Atherogenic Index For?

The atherogenic index is a calculation made to measure the risk of atherosclerosis. It uses cholesterol values from blood tests to obtain a figure that gives us an indication of the state of the arteries. Today's article will tell you everything you need to know about it.
What's the Atherogenic Index For?

Last update: 22 October, 2021

The atherogenic index is a calculation made to estimate the risk of the arteries becoming blocked. It’s an affordable and widely used estimate and today’s article will discuss some interesting facts about it.

Atherosclerosis is the deposit of fatty substances, cholesterol inside the arteries in this case. The function of the blood vessels is to transport the blood that’ll nourish the cells of all tissues with oxygen. In addition, they also collect the carbon dioxide resulting from the metabolism of the cells in order to carry it to the lungs. This is so the organism can eliminate it.

What’s atherosclerosis?

This happens when cholesterol accumulates in the blood vessels. Thus, it gradually obstructs the flow, and two things can happen as a result:

  1. An entirely obstructed blood vessel means the areas of the organism nourished by it will be deprived of their necessary supply of oxygen. Consequently, the cells of these tissues will slowly die and the organ of which they’re a part will lose functionality.
  2. This deposited material will detach from the walls and travel through the vessels. Then, they’ll reach smaller blood vessels and clog them — blocking the circulation. It’s sort of like the same scenario above, but more abrupt and will lead to a heart attack.

In addition to occlusion, the deposit of fats on the vessel walls also makes them hard and rigid. This, together with the increase in blood pressure due to less space for the blood to circulate, increases the risk of ruptured veins and arteries.

What’s the atherogenic index?

Also known as the Castelli index, this mathematical calculation reflects the ratio between total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol in the arteries. By means of this formula, a physician can determine the risk of atherosclerosis in a person.

The mathematical formula for calculating this index consists of using the total cholesterol value in milligrams as the numerator and dividing it by the HDL cholesterol value -in milligrams- in the denominator.

An illustration about atherosclerosis.
The atherogenic index gives us an idea of the blockage of cholesterol in the arteries

How to interpret the results?

High levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) in relation to the total amount of cholesterol, equals a low atherogenic index. Thus, a lower risk of atherosclerosis. Conversely, low levels of HDL in proportion to total cholesterol levels provide a high atherogenic index. This means the risk of atherosclerosis is higher.

The reference values for the atherogenic index

  • Minimal risk. A value of less than 3.5 indicates a low to zero probability of experiencing cardiovascular disease.
  • Moderate risk. Values between 3.5 and 4.5 mean a person must take control of their cholesterol levels through some preventive strategies.
  • Maximum risk. Any values above 4.5 require constant monitoring. It’s necessary to apply measures to lower cholesterol levels either to prevent disease in the blood vessels or stabilize an established condition.

In addition to these reference values, the risk of developing atherosclerosis is also influenced by the sex of the person. Thus, in men, there’s a serious risk beginning at 4.5 points on the index. Women are at serious risk with a mere 4 points.

How can I reduce the atherogenic index?

Some medications can lower blood cholesterol but people should make some lifestyle changes before having to take them. Some of them are:

  • Adopting a well-balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables and skipping any products that contain refined sugars and fats
  • Smokers have a much higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases so a person at risk must consider quitting
  • Regularly exercising according to one’s needs and capabilities

Diet is one of the pillars for reducing the atherogenic index.

Consult the atherogenic index with your doctor

In the event of a change in the analytical readings, the specialist will advise the patient on the measures to take. They’ll also decide if their patient should begin a pharmacological treatment.

As always, it’s important to lead a healthy lifestyle — most people can do it. They’ll largely avoid developing metabolic problems of all kinds, such as diabetes or cardiovascular conditions if they do.

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