HDL, the so-called “good” cholesterol, may not be so good after all. A new study published in the journal Nature Medicine has linked high levels of HDL to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Cholesterol is a lipid, or fat, produced by the liver. It is vital for normal body function however elevated levels of cholesterol have been associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Because of this, many people are prescribed cholesterol-lowering medications.
A cholesterol reading is made up of HDLs, or “good” cholesterol, and LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. HDL is considered a “friendly scavenger” because it sucks up bad cholesterol as it moves through the bloodstream. Thus, higher HDL levels have been considered more desirable.
However, a new study conducted by researchers with Cleveland Clinic found that HDL can change when it enters artery walls, causing it to seep back into the blood stream where it can block blood vessels. This results in abnormal HDL levels, which researchers say can indicate an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Statin medications are generally the first-line treatment for high cholesterol. Many of these drugs, such as the widely prescribed statin Lipitor, are designed to help protect against cardiovascular diseases by driving down LDL while raising HDL. The new study brings into question the benefits of raising HDL levels.
Statin medications are hailed by many for their ability to lower cholesterol, however they do carry side effects that can be difficult for some people to tolerate, such as muscle weakness and muscle and liver injury. Statins can also increase blood sugar levels, putting users at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition that increases the risk of heart disease, kidney disease, dementia and a host of other problems.