HDL or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol has been dubbed for many years as the good cholesterol for its protective benefits against cardiovascular disease. However, a recent study published on May 10 in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes has found that HDL level alone does not accurately indicate a person’s cardiovascular disease susceptibility, and too much of this good cholesterol still increases a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease.

For years, people believed that the higher the good cholesterol level, the higher the protection. While HDL still has benefits for one’s health, it is largely overstated and its effects actually rely on two other blood fats or lipids related to heart disease namely the low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) also known as the bad cholesterol, and triglycerides (TG).

The risk of developing cardiovascular disease is still as high as 30 to 60 percent in individuals with high HDL when TG or LDL or both lipids’ levels are also high. High HDL alone does not decrease the cardiovascular risk even if TG and LDL are above 100 mg/dL. The optimal level for TG and LDL is less than 150 mg/dL  and 100-129 mg/dL  respectively.

good cholesterol

Nuts are good sources of HDL. Credit: Pixabay/sunnysun0803

“There’s no question that HDL does have a protective role, as we also confirm in the study, but HDL has been hyped-up,” adds senior author Michael Miller, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine as well as a preventive cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Centre. “HDL really should be viewed as a third priority, with LDL on top and TG second.”

The new study involved analysing the Framingham Heart Study’s data of 3,590 men and women taken for almost 25 years, from 1987 to 2011. The participants recruited were not diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, have both low and high levels of the good cholesterol, normal and high levels of TG and LDL.