Does so-called good cholesterol really protect from heart disease?

A new study challenges the heart protective effect of "good cholesterol"

A new study challenges the notion that HDL or so-called good cholesterol protects us from heart disease.

Findings published by University of Maryland researchers suggests maybe we shouldn't be comfortable with the notion that HDL or high density lipoproteins in our blood are an indicator that our heart disease risk is low.

First study reveals more about HDL cholesterol not so protective effect

The researchers looked at cohort data from 25 years from the Framingham Heart Study. The focus was to determine the impact of high triglyceride levels, "bad", or LDL cholesterol and HDL on heart disease risk.

Men and women without heart disease were followed between 1987 and 2011. The study included 3,590 men and women.

What the researchers found is that HDL cholesterol's protective effect isn't exactly what we thought.

Senior author Michael Miller, MD, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and preventive cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center.said in a media release "There's no question that HDL does have a protective role, as we also confirm in the study, but HDL has been hyped-up."

Miller explained LDL or “bad cholesterol” should be a top priority for determining heart disease risk, triglycerides second and HDL or good cholesterol as a “third priority”.

He said no one has looked at HDL alone and whether it really does predict heart disease risk.

The researchers wanted to know if high good cholesterol levels is enough to keep heart disease at bay when other cholesterol numbers are out of range.

What they discovered is triglyceride and LDL levels, whether high or low, were both indicative of who might develop heart disease.

However, having a low “good cholesterol” level raised the risk 30 to 60 percent more in the presence of high triglycerides and high LDL levels.

There was no protection from heart disease associated with having high good cholesterol level when triglyceride and LDL levels were above 100.

The take home message is that HDL cholesterol may not be as protective as previously thought, especially if other cholesterol numbers are high, contrary to what our doctor’s might have told us in the past.

The study is published online in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.