Few things are as demonized as cholesterol when it comes to our health. In fact, some people may be surprised to learn that we actually need it to live and to be healthy. We all have heard about good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Well, it’s about to get a little more complicated.
There are basically two types of cholesterol. One is low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as the bad cholesterol. The other is high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or the good cholesterol. An easy way to remember these is to think of the “L” in LDL as standing for “lousy” cholesterol.
Needless to say, the good cholesterol is supposed to be good for you and the bad cholesterol is supposed to be bad for you. Simple, right? Not quite.
According to a recent article published in Harvard Health Publications, good cholesterol may not be as good as once believed.
HDL (good) cholesterol is supposed to help carry LDL (bad) cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver. Here, it is broken down and passed from the body. It is therefore believed that the higher the number of HDL, the better for our health. That may be about to change.
The cholesterol story, if we may call it that, is a complex one. Some have even suggested that the risks associated with it may be exaggerated or even a hoax, to make otherwise healthy people take medications on a regular basis. (See Are They Lying to Us About Cholesterol?).
As for the good cholesterol, it turns out that not all is good in the ‘hood. According to the Harvard article, HDL (good cholesterol) comes in different shapes and sizes. And not all are good or beneficial.
Some HDL do not provide any health benefits as previously thought, and are just “bystanders”. But there’s more.
Two studies put HDL in “less than positive light”. One study was done on people with genetic mutations that cause high HDL. These people would be expected to be at low risk of heart disease, but they don’t. Their risk for heart disease was found to not be dissimilar to that of those without HDL-raising mutation. But it gets worse.
Even More implicating is the second body of evidence. Five clinical trials that sought raise HDL levels with drugs failed to lower risk of heart disease. The trials included new drugs in the testing phase as well as older ones.
Perhaps we should pay attention to both good and bad cholesterol levels and aim to keep both within a certain threshold.