"Good" Cholesterol Earns Its Name

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.

  • HDL cholesterol removes LDL "bad" cholesterol from your blood.
    Ideally, HDL level should be 60 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) or

  • 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

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

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

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

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

By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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