Even ‘good’ cholesterol is bad: Study finds high HDL linked to dementia

Even ‘good’ cholesterol is bad: Study finds high HDL linked to dementia


They call it the “good” cholesterol — but like a cheating spouse, HDL might have been gaslighting us all along.

A new study adds to a growing body of evidence that HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, isn’t good or healthy, especially once it’s reached certain levels in your blood.

The research reveals that people with high levels of HDL might have a higher risk of developing dementia.

Data compiled from approximately 18,000 people aged 65 and older showed that those with a HDL reading of 80 mg/dL had a 27% increased risk of developing dementia.

Previous studies have linked so-called “bad” LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol to heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.

By contrast, one function of “good” HDL cholesterol is to carry excess cholesterol from our bodies to our liver, which prevents fat from building up in our arteries.

Generally, the recommended range of HDL is 40 to 60 mg/dL for men and 50 to 60 mg/dL for women.

“We have known for a long time that high levels of HDL-C are beneficial for reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke,” Andrew Doig, professor of biochemistry at the UK’s University of Manchester, who was not involved in the study, told Newsweek.


Two of the main types of cholesterol are HDL and LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, which is the so-called "bad cholesterol."
Two of the main types of cholesterol are HDL and LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, which is the so-called “bad cholesterol.” Getty Images/iStockphoto

“This work shows that high HDL-C may not be all good, however, if it makes dementia more likely,” Doig added.

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The new report is supported by earlier studies which found that high HDL do more harm than good. In one such study, people who had HDL cholesterol levels above 60 mg/dL were nearly 50% more likely to have a heart attack or die from heart disease, than people with HDL levels between 41 and 60 mg/dL.

The reason behind this might be that too-high HDL levels could slow the process of clearing LDL cholesterol from your arteries.

When LDL cholesterol builds up in these blood vessels, it forms clumps called plaques that slow or block blood flow. Eventually, a chunk of plaque can break free and form a clot, which could lead to a heart attack or stroke.


Higher levels of HDL cholesterol might be linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
Higher levels of HDL cholesterol might be linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Another study, published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, found that some people, after having had a heart attack, may process high HDL differently, so that instead of protecting against heart disease, high HDL levels in these people could actually increase the risk of heart disease.

The latest study, published in The Lancet Regional Health — Western Pacific journal, may open the way for further research into how cholesterol levels and dementia are linked.

“Perhaps there is a disease pathway between the two that we currently don’t know about. If so, this might point to new ways to develop drugs against dementia,” said Doig.

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“This is all very speculative, but worth looking at, as we desperately need better treatments for dementia.”



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