According to a new study, HDL (“good”) cholesterol may not protect against heart disease, so is HDL cholesterol really that important to heart health?
While experts have long believed that “good” HDL cholesterol can protect against heart disease, a new study suggests that this may not always be the case. According to the study, which appears in the November 21, 2022 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, too little HDL cholesterol was linked to an increased risk of heart disease in white adults – but not black adults.
HDL Cholesterol and Heart Disease
“I did not expect high levels of HDL would not be protective,” said Nathalie Pamir, the study’s senior author and an associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine. “And I certainly did not expect low levels to have no predictive value for Black adults.”
There is a growing body of evidence that disputes HDL cholesterol’s role in protecting against heart disease, but not everyone is catching on. “Those of us with high HDL have been getting a pat on the back from our doctors,” says Pamir, who is also a researcher at the Center for Preventive Cardiology at OHSU’s Knight Cardiovascular Institute. “We’ve been told your HDL is good so don’t worry. You’re protected.”
While it was thought that HDL cholesterol was protective due to its ability to help dispose of cholesterol, some studies suggest that it simply adds to the total cholesterol number. “It’s still cholesterol at the end of the day,” says Pamir. “More and more studies are coming out showing that HDL levels above 80 are detrimental with regards to cardiovascular outcomes.”
Healthy Cholesterol Levels
According to Pamir, the focus should be on the total cholesterol number, which should be about 150 mg/dL, with LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels being at or below 100 mg/dL. Dr. Howard Weintraub, who is the clinical director of the Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at the Leon H. Cheney Division of Cardiology at NYU Langone Health, also hopes that people understand that high HDL levels will not protect you against heart disease.
“Literally, on a daily basis someone comes to my office with an HDL of 80 or 90,” says Weintraub. “When I tell them that doesn’t mean they are bulletproof, they are crestfallen because their doctor told them not to worry about their bad cholesterol because the good cholesterol was so good.” Weintraub was not involved in the study.
Leading a Healthy Lifestyle
Cardiology specialist Dr. Robert Rosenson, who was also not involved in the study, explains that higher HDL levels are usually a sign of a healthy lifestyle. “People with higher HDL levels are less likely to be overweight, more likely to be active, less likely to be smokers and less likely to have prediabetes,” says Rosenson, director of lipids and metabolism at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York.
In other words, the focus should not be on a single data point, but on your overall wellness. If you want to decrease your risk for heart disease, you need to practice healthy habits on a daily basis. For example, you can exercise five days a week, eat heart-healthy foods, and take supplements like L-arginine Plus.
As a heart supplement, its ingredients promote circulation, blood pressure, cholesterol, and overall heart health. Give your health the support it needs by making sure your LDL levels are low, you’re practicing healthy habits, and you take L-arginine Plus.