HDL protection against heart disease risk depends on the levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, according to research findings. It is well known that having higher levels of HDL cholesterol can keep your heart healthy and lower your risk of heart disease, but the study suggests that protective properties of HDL cholesterol do not work in isolation, but rather depend on other factors, namely, the levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. If these are not within a normal range, even high levels of HDL (which overall is a good thing) may not necessarily protect against heart disease.
The study looked at 25 years worth of data. Senior author Michael Miller said, “There’s no question that HDL does have a protective role, as we also confirm in the study, but HDL has been hyped-up. HDL really should be viewed as a third priority, with LDL on top and TG [triglycerides] second. Nobody has really looked at an isolated low and isolated high HDL, and whether or not other factors, such as triglycerides and LDL, make a difference in the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
The researchers found that HDL was not uniformly predictive of heart disease. Triglycerides and LDL modified the incidence of cardiovascular disease in both low and high HDL levels. Compared to isolated low HDL, heart disease risk was still 30 to 60 percent with a higher presence of high LDL, triglycerides, or both, and high HDL was not associated with a reduced risk of heart disease if triglycerides and LDL were over 100 mg/dL.
What are triglycerides and LDL?
A type of fat present in the blood, triglycerides are a known risk factor for hardened arteries, increasing the risk of stroke, heart disease, and heart attack. Triglycerides come from the food we eat and the calories unused by the cells. These extra calories are quickly turned into triglycerides and stored in fat cells. Triglycerides are then released as energy in-between meals.
High triglycerides are often a sign of another condition, like metabolic syndrome, which is also known to increase the risk of stroke and heart disease. Metabolic syndrome includes high blood pressure, obesity, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol levels.
High triglycerides may also be a sign of poorly controlled diabetes, low levels of thyroid hormones, liver disease, kidney disease, or genetic conditions. Lastly, in come cases, high triglycerides could be a result of certain medication use, including oral contraceptives or beta blockers. By uncovering the cause of your high triglycerides, you can lower their levels more effectively and, in turn, decrease your risk of stroke, heart attack, or heart disease.
Cholesterol comes in two forms: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is the type we generally refer to as “bad” and HDL is the “good” kind. But what makes cholesterol good or bad?
LDL can stick to the walls of your arteries, obstructing the blood flow. HDL, on the other hand, moves cholesterol to the liver for removal. Cholesterol is essential to our body, so maintaining a healthy balance is imperative.
Higher levels of LDL cholesterol have been linked to higher risks of heart disease and cardiovascular events. That’s why it’s important to maintain lower levels of LDL compared to levels of HDL, which should typically be higher.
The good news is, both triglycerides and LDL cholesterol can naturally be lowered through lifestyle intervention. You should eat a healthy diet, avoiding bad fats, processed foods, and sugary foods, exercise regularly, lose weight, and limit alcohol consumption. By following a healthy lifestyle, you can have greater success in managing your triglycerides and LDL cholesterol and reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease, and heart attack.