Why good cholesterol levels won’t prevent a heart attack

February 17, 2009
Volume 06    |   Issue 14

We’ve thought all along that having high amounts of HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind) and low levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) would prevent a heart attack. After all, HDL is the slick cholesterol that keeps sticky LDL from building up in the arteries. But that’s not necessarily true.

At least that’s what researchers at the University of Chicago’s Department of Medicine say. They found that the quality of HDL was more predictive than its quantity.

Both HDL and LDL have multiple functions that involve its protein and fat components. If you’re healthy, HDL is protective. But these researchers found that cholesterol’s protective functions are cancelled out if you have a chronic systemic inflammatory disease, such as diabetes, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis, or coronary heart disease (CHD). This explains why some people have ideal cholesterol levels and still get heart disease.

So once more, when it comes to chronic illnesses, inflammation is the culprit. In other words, it’s not your cholesterol blood level that predicts your risk for heart disease. It’s inflammation.

You can have sophisticated blood tests to see whether or not your “good” cholesterol is “good” or “bad.” You can do the same with “bad” LDL cholesterol. But the solution isn’t to raise your HDL and lower your LDL. It’s to treat inflammation.

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There’s a lot you can do about inflammation, and I’ve written many articles on the subject over the years. They’re all available free to newsletter subscribers on my website.

If you have any chronic illness, don’t look to your cholesterol levels to give you information about your risk for heart disease. Go to the heart of the matter and reduce inflammation.

Begin by getting a blood test to show your levels of CRP (C-reactive protein). This is a protein made in the liver that promotes inflammation and predicts your risk for heart disease. If your CRP is high, don’t waste time trying to lower your cholesterol. Start reducing your inflammation today.

One of the easiest ways to lower your CRP is with a nutrient essential to good heart health: CoEnzyme Q10. A published animal study used both CoQ10 and vitamin E in baboons to lower CRP. It was successful. You can get an excellent quality CoQ10 supplement from Advanced Bionutritionals. That’s what I take, and my CRP remains low.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


Scanu, AM and Edelstein, C, “HDL: bridging past and present with a look at the future”, ascanu@medicine.bsd.uchicago.edu, December 2008.

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