Medical researchers in this new study looked at the genes of around 170,000 individuals. Earlier research had shown that variations in the DNA would naturally raise the levels of HDL in patients who possessed them. There were 15 genetic variations, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which had been previously identified. However, in this most recent cholesterol study, medical researchers found that none of these variations actually reduced the patient’s risk of suffering a heart attack when compared to people who didn’t possess these genetic variations.
In one example, carriers of an SNP known as the “protein-coding change in the endothelial lipase gene”, have naturally occurring HDL levels ten percent higher than the average person. According to prior studies, this elevation was expected to reduce their risk of heart attack by thirteen percent. However, these new results show that these people had the same heart attack risk as non-carriers.
Not surprisingly, after the results of those prior cholesterol studies came out, doctor’s assumed that if patients could do something to increase their HDL levels, then they could safely assume that their risk of heart attack would go down. According to Dr. Sekar Kathiresan, director of preventive cardiology at Massachusetts General Hospital, and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, these new results bring that prior premise into direct question. Fundamentally, it just doesn’t hold up to these new findings.
Dr. Kathiresan informed WebMD that HDL still remains an important measure when assessing a patient’s risk of heart disease, but now there are new questions regarding the benefits of prescribing medication to raise a patient’s HDL levels.
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The cholesterol in our blood gets transported by particles known as lipoproteins. According to medical researchers, these lipoproteins can come in varied sizes and densities. After decades of clinical trials, researchers established that there is a definite link between elevated LDL levels and heart attacks. In fact, it was previous genetic studies, quite similar to this most recent one, which helped to develop the widely used lipid-lowering drugs known as statins.
It has been 30 years since researchers conducted the study which found that higher levels of HDL could lower the patient’s risk of heart attack. Since then, the research on HDL has become less and less clear. Some studies performed on mice have reported similar results, but a conclusive link has yet to been proven. Interestingly, researchers believe that this recent study may provide the most clear-cut evidence for the role in which HDL plays.
The co-author of this high cholesterol clinical trial, Dr. Benjamin F. Voight (an assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania), has made some public statements in regards to these findings. According to Dr. Voight, this shows that not every method of raising one’s HDL levels will also lead to a reduced risk of heart attack.
According to Dr. Michael Lauer, director of the division of cardiovascular sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, it may be time to rethink everything we have concluded on HDL cholesterol. In a recent statement to the New York Times, the doctor suggests that our lab scientists should go back to square one and try to figure out exactly where HDL fits in this cardiovascular puzzle. It is time to scrap these current assumptions and go back to the drawing board.
With the results of this latest high cholesterol clinical study, we can no longer be sure of how HDL works. Research has shown us that lowering LDL can have a big impact on the risk of heart attack, of that we can be sure. However, this does not mean that increasing HDL levels is actually beneficial. So as of now, people should be focusing on living healthily and working to keep those LDL numbers down.