You have heard that there are two types of cholesterol.
LDL is the bad type that circulates through your bloodstream and of which you should have as little as possible.
HDL, on the other hand, is the good type that transports LDL to your liver and out of your body and of which you should have as much as possible.
American and Canadian researchers published a new study in the November 2016 edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology that casts serious doubt on this common wisdom.
In fact, the opposite may even be true!
They identified 631,762 Canadians whose cholesterol levels were known and who had an average age of 57. None of them had cardiovascular disease or any other serious condition that normally coincides with it.
During the 4.9 years during which the scientists observed them, 17,952 of them died.
When analyzing the causes of their deaths in the light of their HDL cholesterol levels, the research team found the following:
1. Those with the lowest HDL levels were more likely than the others to die of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all other causes.
2. Those with the highest HDL levels were more likely to die of non-cardiovascular causes like cancer than those with scores in the middle.
3. When all causes of death were considered together, those with the lowest scores were the most likely to die, then those with the highest scores, and then those in the middle.
What does this mean?
If those with the lowest HDL are not only more likely to die of cardiovascular disease but also of other non-cardiovascular causes, it seems to suggest that instead of being a direct contributor to cardiovascular disease, low HDL should rather be seen as a marker of general poor health.
Think of it this way, if the people who are the most likely to die also happen to be those with low HDL cholesterol, it seems like low HDL is a general indicator of poor health, rather than being a cause of cardiovascular disease specifically.
The scientists did not try to explain the second and third findings, except to remark, rather obviously, that high HDL in itself is not a great outcome at which to aim, as it increases your chance of dying of cancer and other non-cardiovascular causes.
This study is useful because it shows that it is pointless and even undesirable to take drugs to increase your HDL cholesterol score.
Moreover, because low HDL is an indicator of an unhealthy lifestyle, drugs to increase your HDL score alone will not make you healthier. Only a healthy lifestyle can do that.
The fact is that LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol have absolutely nothing to do with your risk of stroke and heart attack and other cardiovascular complications.
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