Very high levels of HDL (good cholesterol) can increase your risk of heart attack and death, concludes study

For a long time, people have been told that foods rich in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) are healthy. It turns out, getting too much HDL can be a bad thing, even if it’s called the “good cholesterol,” according to a study presented at the  European Society of Cardiology Congress. The research, led by a team from the Emory University School of Medicine, revealed that people with extremely high levels of good cholesterol have an increased risk of heart attack and death.

HDL is generally good for the body since it moves bad cholesterol from the blood vessels to the liver so that it can be broken down and eliminated from the body. This prevents the formation of plaques that block the arteries and prevent blood from flowing. Because of this, the risk of developing heart disease, atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke is significantly lowered. Although low levels of HDL are associated with greater risk of these diseases, previous studies have not shown that very high levels of good cholesterol have protective effects on the body.

The authors of this study evaluated the effects of HDL levels on the risk of heart attack and death in 5,965 individuals. Most of these participants already had preexisting heart conditions so the researchers also put this into consideration, along with smoking, diabetes, bad cholesterol levels, and alcohol intake. After four years, 13 percent of the participants had a heart attack or died due to heart problems. The researchers also observed that patients whose HDL levels fell between 41 to 60 mg/dL had the lowest risk of cardiovascular problems. As expected, participants who had lower levels of good cholesterol had a higher risk of heart problems. What was shocking was that people whose HDL levels were above 60 mg/dL were also more likely to have heart attacks and die from them. In fact, their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease was 50 percent higher than patients who had 41 to 60 mg/dL of good cholesterol. This could be attributed to a higher chance of HDL malfunction when more of it are present, allowing unstable plaques to form and cause inflammation in the arteries.

“Our results are important because they contribute to a steadily growing body of evidence that very high HDL cholesterol levels may not be protective,” said Dr. Allard-Ratick who is one of the authors of the study.

Overall, these results prove having moderate levels of good cholesterol is good for the body. However, there is also a limit to how much of it a person can have since excessive HDL can lead to heart problems that can become fatal. (Related: Optimal cholesterol ratios not only good for the heart, but also lower Alzheimer’s disease risk.)

Foods that increase HDL levels

The results of this study don’t eliminate the fact that HDL is beneficial to the body. What is important is that you maintain enough of it to overpower bad cholesterol while not going overboard. Lifestyle plays a major role in managing healthy cholesterol levels. By simply doing more exercises, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol intake, you can already experience significant improvements in HDL levels. You can also increase the intake of the following foods to help you on your journey to better health.

  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Beans and legumes
  • Whole grains
  • High-fiber fruits
  • Fatty fish
  • Flax seeds
  • Nuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Avocado
  • Soy
  • Red wine

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