In recent years, healthy eaters have been told to focus on ‘good cholesterol,’ or HDL, for it’s heart health benefits. Popular diet plans, like the Keto diet, focus on high fat intake, with the idea of eating these good fats. After all, the thinking was that LDL (bad cholesterol), not HDL, is what causes plaque to build up in your arteries, leading to conditions like peripheral arterial disease (PAD). People with PAD experience a slow down in the flow of blood from their heart to the rest of their body; this can lead to pain, cramping, ulcers and blood clots.
According to old beliefs, HDL moved LDL away from arteries and into the liver, preventing the kind of plaque build up that leads to PAD. Because of that kind of thinking, people were encouraged to eat foods that were rich in HDL, like olive oil, salmon and avocado. But now, new research is turning that kind of thinking around, warning us that too much HDL can be just as ‘bad’ for your body as the other kind of cholesterol.
The Problem with Good Cholesterol
In this Emory University study, researchers followed 6000 people with an average age of 63 to assess their risk of heart attack or death. As we might have expected from previous studies, participants with middling HDL levels (between 41–60 milligrams per decilitre) had the lowest risk of adverse cardiovascular events. People with HDL levels below that range did, in fact, show increased risk of heart attack.
But here’s the shocking part: people with HDL levels ABOVE that range had the highest risk levels. In fact, their risk of cardiovascular events were increased by 50%! Scientists think that this increased risk is because, in high volumes, HDL may change its behavior. Instead of pulling LDL away from the arteries, it may actually transfer the LDL onto the artery walls, increasing people’s risk of vascular diseases like PAD.
While the evidence is clear in suggesting that high HDL levels increase your risk of heart attack, it is not yet proven that too much good cholesterol is the actual cause of this increased risk. At the same time, it is fact that the ‘right’ amount of HDL can protect your heart health. Given these facts, our Houston vein specialists do not yet recommend changing your diet. Instead we suggest eating heart-healthy fats in moderation. That, combined with a sensible diet and exercise, should keep you in the proven ‘safe’ zone for cholesterol.
Sources: European Society of Cardiology, sciencedaily.com