The importance of “good” cholesterol is evident, especially when it comes to preventing heart diseases. However, new research indicates that too much of this cholesterol may eventually harm you.
The results are astonishing and deny the conventional wisdom about the role of cholesterol and the health on its head.
It now seems that too much cholesterol, irrespective of its type, is bad for you- the only thing that matters is the amount and the form.
The scientists revealed the results of this study at the yearly conference of the European Society of Cardiology in Munich, Germany.
Different Types of Cholesterol
Cholesterol refers to a type of lipoprotein i.e.it contains protein and fat. Unlike your body fat, it does not just lay around making your clothes get tighter.
In fact, cholesterol keeps moving in your body.
Cholesterol is extremely important for life. It is a functional component of all the plasma lipoproteins and cell membranes. You will find cholesterol as a precursor to steroid hormones which, in turn, help regulate body functions.
Additionally, cholesterol is a component of bile acid which stimulates normal digestive processes and helps regulate different cell activities.
There are two types of this substance.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is what you know as the “bad” cholesterol. This is because it leads to atherosclerosis, a condition in which fat builds up in arteries leading to plaque formation.
Plaque causes arteries to narrow and increases the risk of stroke and heart attacks. It may also narrow the arteries in legs, leading to a disease called peripheral artery disease.
High-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol, on the other hand, is “good” cholesterol. It takes the LDL cholesterol away from your arteries, eventually moving it to the liver. In liver, LDL breaks down and your body excretes it later.
However, the scientists involved in the recent study denied these results. Some of them proposed that at high plasma levels, HDL can actually start transferring LDL cholesterol to the arteries and promote vascular diseases.
This concept has been supported by cell studies and research conducted on mice but no human trials have been documented so far.
What did the Study Reveal?
Researchers belonging to the Emory University School of Medicine investigated 6000 people in order to discover the effects of cholesterol levels on heart health.
The people participating in this study had an average age of 63 years. Most of them were also suffering from a heart disease.
Their findings revealed that people with HDL levels of 41 to 60 mg/dl had the lowest risk of developing a heart attack or experiencing cardiovascular death.
The levels of HDL lower than 41 mg/dl were also associated with an increase in this risk.
However, what scientists were surprised to find was the elevated risk in people with HDL cholesterol levels higher than 60 mg/dl.
Such people had over 50 percent increased the risk of death by a cardiovascular cause or from a heart attack as compared to those with HDL levels of around 41 to 60 mg/dl.
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This research successfully established a relationship between the elevated HDL and an increased risk of heart attack. However, the findings of this study do not render this relationship as a causative one. In fact, it suggests that both factors occur in a large number of people.
What does Previous Literature Say?
A study published in the European Heart Journal in the year 2017 revealed similar results as found in this study. The scientists concluded that a positive link exists between high levels of HDL cholesterol and an increased risk of death.
Over 50,000 men and 60,000 women from two population studies were included in this study.
The scientists concluded that a high level of HDL cholesterol can increase the risk of death from all causes, not just the fatalities caused by cardiovascular diseases.
The recent study is groundbreaking because the researchers especially emphasized the effects of high HDL in people who already suffered from heart diseases.
The study utilized unambiguous endpoints of death or heart attacks due to various cardiovascular causes. A large number of participants in this study gave it a good statistical power.
Sufficient amount of female participants helped in reduction of gender bias.
Changing How you View Cholesterol
As per the researchers, the results were consistent even when other risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, and alcohol consumption were controlled.
Researchers concluded that the patients with a moderate amount of HDL were exposed at the minimal risk for heart attacks.
Experts suggest that it is about time that people change their views about HDL cholesterol. Traditionally, the doctors tell their patients about the advantages of having high HDL in blood. However, the results from this study suggest otherwise.
The Bottom Line
Scientists suggest not changing your diet right away. The bottom line is that the current research cannot change the recommendations for healthy eating.
The current guidelines which have a positive effect on the heart attack risks and cholesterol levels include the elimination of trans fat and moderate intake of the saturated fats. It also emphasizes more on monosaturated fats.
You can do this by reducing the consumption of animal products and processed foods. Moreover, you should focus more on whole plant-based diets that include vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains.
The bulk of the fat that you consume should come from various monosaturated sources such as avocado, nuts, and olive oil.
Experts say that patients with low levels of HDL cholesterol associated with a chronic disease must still be advised to lose weigh. They must stop smoking, exercise more, and take their high blood pressure and cholesterol medications on time.
However, the picture is rather murky for people at risk due to high cholesterol level. This risk factor is so new that no interventions for it have been validated or proposed so far.