HDL cholesterol is known as the “good” cholesterol because it helps move along LDL cholesterol, which can clog your arteries and increase your risk of a heart-related event. You may think that the more HDL cholesterol you have the better your health must be, right? Wrong. Studies have shown that when it comes to HDL cholesterol, there can be too much of a good thing. And when you have too much HDL cholesterol, your risk of death increases.
The study found that men and women with high levels of HDL cholesterol have a respective 106 percent and 68 percent higher risk of early death compared to those with normal levels.
Researcher Professor Børge Nordestgaard said: “These results radically change the way we understand ‘good’ cholesterol. Doctors like myself have been used to congratulating patients who had a very high level of HDL in their blood. But we should no longer do so—as this study shows a dramatically higher mortality rate.”
The study was conducted by reviewing the deaths of over 10,500 men and women who were followed on average for six years.
While the study found a higher risk of early mortality associated with high levels of HDL cholesterol, the same was found among those with low levels, too. Those with medium levels of HDL cholesterol had the lowest risk of early mortality.
Recommended HDL cholesterol levels are less than 5 millimoles per liter (mmol/L), with LDL measuring less than 3 mmol/L and HDL more than 1 mmol/L.
Professor Nordestgaard added: “It appears we need to remove the focus from HDL as an important health indicator in research at hospitals and at the general practitioner. These are the smallest lipoproteins in the blood and perhaps we ought to examine some of the larger ones instead. For example, looking at blood levels of triglyceride and LDL, the ‘bad’ cholesterol, are probably better health indicators.”
It is still unclear why high or low levels of HDL cholesterol can contribute to a higher risk of early mortality; therefore, additional research is needed to better understand this correlation.
Some foods are known to increase HDL cholesterol, including olive oil, fish oils, and garlic, as is moderate alcohol consumption.