Does raising your HDL “good cholesterol” really protect against heart disease?

Heart health

By pH health care professionals

In March, scientists discovered a gene mutation that raises HDL cholesterol levels (commonly known as the “good” cholesterol) -- but rather than protecting against heart disease, it increases your risk for it. With HDL cholesterol widely being touted as heart-protective, it made scientists scratch their heads, wondering if HDL cholesterol levels are not really a catch-all. Perhaps it’s not the amount of HDL that matters, but how it works and how well it removes unhealthy cholesterol.

Then in August, another study found that both high and low levels of HDL cholesterol may increase a person’s risk for premature death. It was the intermediate HDL cholesterol levels, they found, which may increase longevity. So again, it’s not necessarily “the more the merrier” with “good” cholesterol.

More recently, in October, a study found that low levels of HDL cholesterol were associated with a higher likelihood of dying from cardiovascular problems, but people with high HDL cholesterol levels still had increased risk for premature death, though not cardiovascular-related. Once again, “the more the merrier” did not apply with HDL here either.

This is quite a departure from the standard advice to raise HDL cholesterol in hopes of protecting against heart attack and stroke. Recent research seems to say that there’s little evidence that it really does. This also explains why the pharmaceutical industry has failed time and again to successfully develop a drug that reduces cases of heart disease by boosting HDL levels.

So are the days of measuring HDL cholesterol gone?

Not likely. The most recent study found that people with low HDL cholesterol levels tended to have lower incomes, higher body weights and poorer diets than others in the study. So your doctor may still want to check HDL cholesterol as a marker for your overall health and lifestyle.

It is also possible that further research into HDL subtypes may clarify the “good” cholesterol’s relationship with heart disease. Perhaps it is more complex than we previously thought. And perhaps drugs to raise HDL cholesterol may only work in people with certain genetic mutations, an article in STAT suggests.

Be proactive!

As modern medicine continues to explore the ways in which your DNA affects your health, we remain optimistic that whole genome sequencing will help proactive people like you get more personalized health care now and in the near future! Click here to learn more about whole genome sequencing.

You can also be proactive by checking your heart health with more comprehensive blood tests that go beyond simple cholesterol measurements -- looking at inflammation, lipid deposits, endothelial dysfunction, clotting factors, novel independent risk factors and more. Click here to learn more about cardiovascular testing.

Want to learn more about heart health? Check out our new book Minerals - The Forgotten Nutrient, which includes an entire chapter on the heart and how you can use minerals to improve heart health.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, health care attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.

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