Heart Health

HDL cholesterol: How much is enough?

Research suggests that raising good cholesterol beyond a certain point doesn't offer any extra benefit for the heart.

how much good cholesterol is enough
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When it comes to cholesterol, it's mostly about the numbers. You want less of the "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and more of the "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) kind. This combination is often associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Sounds simple—and it is, for the most part. But while most attention is spent on driving down bad LDL, you still have to keep your eyes on the good HDL, as some research suggests that after a certain threshold, higher levels don't offer extra protection.

The role of cholesterol

Balancing act

One reason higher HDL may not always be effective is that it needs help to do its job. Another study found that HDL's protective role depends in part on the levels of both LDL and triglycerides (another type of blood fat that helps make up your total cholesterol).

The research, published online May 10, 2016, by Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, analyzed data over 25 years on about 3,500 people. Researchers looked at people with both low and high HDL levels and those with normal and high levels of LDL and triglycerides.

They found that for optimal protection against cardiovascular disease, there needs to be a balance among all three. Higher HDL (40 mg/dL or higher) helped to reduce cardiovascular disease only when LDL and triglycerides were low (100 mg/dL or less). When LDL and triglycerides rose above 100 mg/dL or 150 mg/DL, respectively, higher HDL had no effect.

The ideal numbers

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