HDL, or “good,” cholesterol may not make a difference to heart health, medical research suggests

High-density lipoprotein (HDL), which medical experts refer to as “good cholesterol,” is being reexamined after a new study questioned the benefits of this cholesterol type across racial lines.

Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University’s Knight Cardiovascular Institute analyzed 23,901 medical profiles from a Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke Study (REGARDS) and compared the risk factors of cardiovascular events in middle-aged black and white patients.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a medical research agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and was published Monday, Nov. 21 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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Of the thousands of REGARDS participants analyzed, the researchers narrowed down their findings to patients who enrolled in the study in 2003 and 2007, and then followed the patients’ medical records over a 10- to 11-year period.

Black and White study participants reportedly had similar cholesterol levels and underlying risk factors for heart disease, including diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking.

Various fruits and vegetables lower cholesterol.
(iStock)

Over the ten-year period, researchers found that 664 black patients and 951 white patients had suffered a heart attack or heart attack-related death.

“It is widely accepted that low HDL cholesterol levels are harmful regardless of race. Our study tested those assumptions,” Nathalie Pamir, the study’s senior author, wrote in a statement, according to the NIH.

“The goal was to understand this long-standing link that labels HDL as the beneficial cholesterol, and whether that’s true across ethnicities,” added Pamir, an associate professor of medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, Portland.

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High-density lipoprotein is reportedly rated positive because it has been shown to absorb cholesterol in the blood and return it to the liver, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Reportedly, the liver flushes cholesterol from the body, which can lower a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke if there are high HDL cholesterol levels.

Having too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke.

Having too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke.
(iStock)

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as “bad cholesterol,” makes up the bulk of the body’s cholesterol, according to the CDC.

Having high levels of LDL cholesterol has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

“If your body has too much LDL cholesterol, the LDL cholesterol can build up on the walls of your arteries,” the CDC wrote in an online cholesterol interpreter. “This buildup is called ‘plaque.'”

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The analysis of the REGARDS data in the new study confirmed that high levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (neutral fats) resulted in “modestly increased risks of cardiovascular disease,” according to the NIH.

Low levels of HDL cholesterol were found to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease for white patients, but the same was not true for black patients, according to the study.

Exercise has been proven to improve cholesterol levels, according to several studies.

Exercise has been proven to improve cholesterol levels, according to several studies.
(iStock)

At the same time, the study found that high levels of HDL cholesterol are not always associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular events – regardless of racial group.

Authors of the study conclude that cardiovascular disease risk calculators using HDL cholesterol levels may provide an inaccurate prediction for black patients.

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“HDL cholesterol has long been an enigmatic risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” Sean Coady, deputy chief of epidemiology in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Division of Cardiovascular Sciences, wrote in a statement.

“The findings suggest that a deeper dive into the epidemiology of lipid metabolism is warranted,” Coady continued. “Especially in terms of how race can modify or mediate these relationships.”

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The completej published study can be found on the Journal of the American College of Cardiology website at jacc.org.

HDL, or “good,” cholesterol may not make a difference to heart health, medical research suggests

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