HDL Cholesterol: Good or Bad?

For many years, it has been commonly believed that the higher your HDL cholesterol is, the better. HDL is even referred to as “good cholesterol” as it absorbs LDL or “bad cholesterol” from the blood and carries it to the liver to be flushed from the body. However, studies in recent years have shown us that we have a lot to learn about HDL cholesterol and the possible dangers it poses.


WHAT IS CHOLESTEROL?

Cholesterol is a type of lipid with a waxy consistency and it can cause problems if there is too much of it. However, cholesterol actually performs essential functions in your body. It helps the nervous system function, it helps your body create cell membranes and hormones, and it also helps your body create Vitamin D. Cholesterol comes from two sources: the foods you eat & your liver.

DID YOU KNOW:
Your body creates all of the cholesterol that it needs to function and dietary cholesterol is only found in animal products.

Cholesterol combines with fats called triglycerides and together they are called lipoproteins.

NOTE: High levels of triglycerides are often found in people who have high cholesterol levels, heart issues, have diabetes, or are overweight.


WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HDL CHOLESTEROL & LDL CHOLESTEROL?

HDL stands for High-Density Lipoprotein while LDL is Low-Density Lipoprotein.

LDL cholesterol can build up in the inner walls of your arteries, which can cause the arteries to become clogged and lead to reduced blood flow. HDL cholesterol carries harmful cholesterol away from the arteries and may help protect you from heart attack and stroke. However, higher HDL cholesterol does not always equal lower risk of heart disease. While higher HDL levels are typically a marker of a healthy lifestyle, ethnicity, genetics, and pre-existing conditions are a few risk factors that can all result in high levels of HDL cholesterol, which still contributes to your total cholesterol. Additionally, high HDL may not be harmful to most people, but in some it can cause an increased risk of heart disease.

Check out our easy-to read cholesterol guide! While these numbers are widely agreed upon by medical professionals, please discuss your personal cholesterol levels with your physician.

DID YOU KNOW:
HDL doesn’t completely remove LDL cholesterol. In fact, only 1/3-1/4 of your blood cholesterol is carried by your HDL.


WHAT IS BEING DONE TO FURTHER UNDERSTAND HDL CHOLESTEROL?

In recent years, drugs have been developed to increase the amount of HDL in the blood with the hopes of decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, these drugs failed to perform and were never produced for the public. In 2022 a article in the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Michael Blandling asked researcher Jeremy Furtado why these drugs were unsuccessful:

“One of the most important things to come out of this study is to underscore the need to learn more about HDL subspecies to find out what functions these proteins perform. HDL isn’t just a cholesterol transporter. It also has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immunological, and other actions that affect disease risk. We need to find out which HDL subspecies are protective and which ones are detrimental. Once we know that, we can work to produce therapies that will target increases of the good types of HDL or reductions of the bad. And it’s not just drug therapies. Our group will soon publish new research on the effects of healthy diets associated with reduced risk of heart disease that increase HDL cholesterol, and do so by increasing the good HDL subspecies and not the bad.”

Jeremy Furtado, “Why ‘good’ cholesterol may not always be good”, 2022

We need to have a deeper understanding of HDL cholesterol and how it functions instead of only focusing on the amount that is present in the blood.

Protect yourself by:

  • Getting bloodwork done & discussing results with your doctor
  • Quitting tobacco products
  • Exercising frequently
  • Reducing your stress levels
  • Gaining an understanding of your family history
  • Consuming fewer saturated fats
  • Consuming alcohol in moderation

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