Too much of good cholesterol might be bad for you

Research says that too much of HDL or good cholesterol in the body can increase one's chances of suffering from heart diseases and stroke.

We know that too much of anything is not good. Even good things in life have a limit to how much you can take. So when you go overboard with them they can cause havoc. Seems like researchers have now found out this truth related to cholesterol and have come to the conclusion that: too much of good cholesterol in your body is not ideal. When we talk about cholesterol, we know that there is good and bad cholesterol. We were fed with this idea that good cholesterol or HDL cholesterol is good for our heart whereas bad or LDL cholesterol is bad, it leads to plaque buildup and atherosclerosis. However, new research indicates that too much of a good thing can also be bad for you. So, the results have turned the conventional wisdom about cholesterol and health on its head.

In fact, the research says too much of cholesterol is just bad. The results were presented at the annual conference of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC Congress 2018) in Munich, Germany.

The war between the good and the bad cholesterol

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Cholesterol is a lipoprotein which is a combination of fat and protein that keeps circulating in the body. Unlike body fat that sits in one place and makes you fat in the true sense. Cholesterol is an essential component of the body which keeps the cells function and also helps in various physiological functions. It comes in two types as explained early LDL or bad cholesterol, HDL or good cholesterol.

Our knowledge of science tells us that bad cholesterol causes atherosclerosis, a fatty build-up in the arteries called plaque which narrows the arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. It can also cause narrowed arteries in the legs attributing to peripheral artery disease. Good cholesterol or HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, takes LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and moves it to the liver, where it s broken down and passed from the body. This is conventional wisdom but according to Henry J. Pownall, PhD, scientist and medical biochemist at the Houston Methodist Research Institute in Texas at plasma levels (cellular level) HDL may actually transfer cholesterol to the arterial wall and promote vascular disease. This is supported by cell studies and studies in mice but not humans.

Why too much HDL cholesterol is bad

Researchers at Emory University School of Medicine in Georgia studied almost 6,000 people to discover the effect of cholesterol levels on the risk of heart attack and death. Study participants had an average age of 63. Most already had heart disease. Their findings showed that people with HDL (good) cholesterol levels of 41 60 mg/dl (milligrams per decilitre) had the lowest risk of heart attack or cardiovascular death. Lower levels of HDL (less than 41 mg/dl) were associated with an increased risk. They also discovered that the risk was significantly higher in people with high levels (greater than 60 mg/dl) of HDL cholesterol. These people had an almost 50 per cent increased risk of dying from a cardiovascular cause or experiencing a heart attack compared to those whose HDL cholesterol levels were in the 41 60 mg/dl range.

A 2017 study published in the European Heart Journal also found a strong association between high HDL cholesterol levels and increased risk of death. More than 50,000 men and more than 60,000 women from two large population studies were included in this analysis. The conclusion was that high HDL cholesterol levels are associated with a significantly increased risk of death from all causes, not just cardiovascular disease. The recent Emory University study is groundbreaking because researchers focused specifically on the effect of high HDL in a population that already had heart disease.

Changing the conception of cholesterol

The researchers said that the results were consistent even after controlling for other risk factors for heart disease such as diabetes, smoking, alcohol consumption, race and sex. Researchers concluded that patients with HDL levels in the middle range had the lowest risk for heart attack or death from heart disease. The association between high levels of HDL and increased risk of death or cardiovascular disease was also seen more frequently in women compared to men. However, more studies will be needed to support this fact.

What you can do:

Try to keep your cholesterol levels in check both LDL and HDL. We don t create cholesterol they are secreted in the liver. But the foods we eat have an effect on cholesterol production. So to keep cholesterol levels in check and reduce the risk of heart diseases and stroke limit intake of processed food and animal products, eating more whole plant-based foods that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. The bulk of our fat intake should come from monounsaturated sources such as olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish. Apart from this, try to keep your weight in check, exercise, stop smoking and take your cholesterol and high blood pressure medication on time if you are prescribed any.

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