Before you read about the study's details, here are optimal cholesterol numbers to keep in mind.
- HDL cholesterol removes LDL "bad" cholesterol from your blood. Ideally, HDL level should be 60 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) or higher.
- LDL cholesterol can build up in artery walls, making heart attack and stroke more likely. Ideally, LDL should be less than 100 mg/dL and less than 70 mg/dL for people at high risk of heart disease.
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.
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.