Can High Good Cholesterol Be the Sign of a Problem?

May 26, 2010 | Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist

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 Can High Good Cholesterol Be the Sign of a Problem?
The simplistic notion that LDL cholesterol is “bad” and HDL cholesterol is “good” has only one purpose in public health dogma: scaring people into taking toxic statin drugs to lower their LDL cholesterol. A new study shows that some people with high HDL cholesterol1 have increased rates of chest pain, heart attack, and death – but who?

When Pfizer tried to raise HDL cholesterol with its drug torcetrapib the results were disastrous and the trial had to be stopped early due to significant cardiovascular deaths. The new study confirms that patients with a high level of inflammatory C-reactive protein and high HDL are at particular risk. But there are plenty of people with high C-reactive protein and normal or low HDL who are still at risk for heart disease. Since many of the best researchers in the world seem puzzled by this seeming HDL paradox, let me help them out a bit.

I link LDL cholesterol to a UPS truck, helping to deliver important fat-soluble nutrition and antioxidants all around your body. It becomes “bad” only when it is damaged due to interactions with toxins, germs, free radicals, or some type of inflammatory insult. Damaged LDL cholesterol, also called oxidized LDL, may form plaque in your arteries. People take fat-soluble antioxidants, like the tocotrienol form of vitamin E, to protect their LDL from damage.

HDL cholesterol is like a tow truck, specifically towing LDL cholesterol back to your liver to be recycled, regenerated, or cleared from your body. If you don’t have enough HDL cholesterol or if you have too much LDL cholesterol, then the balance between the tow trucks and the UPS trucks is out of whack and you are at risk for a problem.

You can’t tell how much damaged LDL cholesterol you have by your number, although it is assumed that if it is higher your likely have more. By the same token, you can’t tell the quality of your HDL tow trucks by an HDL number, although you can assume that if your HDL number is low you either don’t have enough nutrition to make them or something toxic/inflammatory is destroying them. I have written extensively on the importance of the quality of your HDL cholesterol in my article, The Amazing New World of HDL Cholesterol, which explains why it is so important to never let your triglycerides become more than twice the number of your HDL.

It is quite true that certain long-lived populations with low rates of cardiovascular disease have higher HDL cholesterol, meaning they have a very efficient tow truck service that is really good at carting off damaged LDL cholesterol before it can form plaque in the arteries. So what is going on when HDL is high and cardiovascular disease is increasing?

It is my belief that this is a sign of increased toxic stress wherein the elevation of HDL cholesterol is a compensating mechanism for LDL being damaged at a higher rate of speed. This means one’s body is trying its best to get rid of the damaged cholesterol by increasing HDL. Interestingly, LDL levels may be rather low in this situation. I have seen many cases wherein a person has twice as much HDL as LDL, the opposite of a normal ratio. Such people are routinely told by their doctors they have nothing to worry about. In my experience these are some of the unhealthiest people I have encountered.

I noticed many years ago that people with this high HDL/low LDL profile either had some major form of inflammatory trouble (often autoimmune) or had a very high level of chemical sensitivity. Either situation is highly inflammatory, which correlates well with the new finding of increased inflammation and high HDL as a risk factor.

The moral of the story is that cholesterol numbers in and of themselves only mean something in the context of a person’s overall health. And then you have to understand what LDL and HDL are trying to do to understand what your own issues may be. Just thinking “good” and “bad” may cause you to miss the boat entirely or take a toxic drug that is far from good for you. If your HDL cholesterol is high and you aren’t feeling so good then you should take aggressive steps to reduce inflammation and toxicity, as the newer science is showing that you need to lower your cardiovascular risk.

Referenced Studies

  1. ^ Inflammation and High HDL May Signal Cardiovascular Risk  Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology  1.J. P. Corsetti, D. Ryan, D. L. Rainwater, A. J. Moss, W. Zareba, C. E. Sparks

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