'Good' Cholesterol Earns Its Name

Even When LDL 'Bad' Cholesterol Is Low, High Levels of HDL 'Good' Cholesterol Help Heart Patients

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 26, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 26, 2007 -- HDL cholesterol is often nicknamed "good" cholesterol, and a new study shows just how good HDL cholesterol can be for people with heart disease.

Here's the take-home message: The higher HDL cholesterol levels were, the better, even when LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels were very low.

Before you read about the study's details, here are optimal cholesterol numbers to keep in mind.

Don't know your cholesterol numbers? You can find out by taking a simple blood test.

HDL and LDL Cholesterol Study

The new HDL report, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, is based on data from an international study of 9,770 heart disease patients.

The patients -- who were in their late 50s to early 60s, on average -- got their HDL and LDL cholesterol levels checked.

All of the patients were assigned to take the statin drug Lipitor primarily to lower their LDL cholesterol levels.

The researchers, who included Philip Barter, MD, PhD, of the Heart Research Institute in Sydney, Australia, typically followed the patients for five years.

During that time, the patients with the highest HDL cholesterol levels were the least likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or cardiac arrest.

The higher the patients' HDL cholesterol level was, the lower their odds of having a heart event during the study. That includes patients who got their LDL "bad" cholesterol below 70 mg/dL.

Barter's team considered many factors that affect heart health, including the patients' age, sex, smoking, BMI (body mass index, which relates height to weight), and diabetes.

But the researchers don't rule out the possibility that some other traits may have affected the results.

The study was funded by Pfizer, which makes Lipitor. In the journal, Barter and colleagues report financial ties to various drug companies, including Pfizer.

Looking to raise your HDL cholesterol level? Exercise, stress management, a healthy diet, and moderate alcohol consumption may help.

Talk to your doctor for guidance, and remember, doctors usually don't recommend that anyone start drinking alcohol for health reasons.

WebMD Health News


SOURCES: Barter, P. The New England Journal of Medicine, Sept. 27, 2007; vol 357: pp 1301-1310. WebMD Medical Reference provided in collaboration with Cleveland Clinic: "High Cholesterol: Understanding Cholesterol Numbers." WebMD Medical News: "Exercise May Boost 'Good' Cholesterol." WebMD Medical News: "Coping With Stress Helps Cholesterol." WebMD Feature: "How Drinking Affects Your Health."

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