The most common risk factors for heart attack are well known – being overweight or obese, a poor diet, lack of physical activity, smoking, etc. Doctors are also typically looking for abnormally high lab values that can give clues for risk such as elevated cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides, or markers of inflammation like c-reactive protein. But what if a low value could offer a clue as well?
According to recurring research, it may be something you’re deficient in that is driving your risk, especially if it shows up during your younger years. It has been found that significantly low levels of HDL (commonly referred to as the “good” cholesterol), versus high levels of LDL, were more common in younger heart attack patients. Normally, risk is associated with elevated lab levels and advanced age, but this study may just turn the tables and shift some of the focus to an earlier predictor.
One study from Harvard Medical School looked at medical records of heart attack patients, both men and women, who were younger than 45 and 50 years respectively. What they found was that HDL cholesterol was actually more likely to be low in these patients than was having elevated LDL levels! This was true in about 75% of the women in the study and a whopping 90% of the men, from about 1600 cases that were evaluated. Normally high LDL levels are considered the bigger risk.
Now, we do need all of the components of a lipid profile (cholesterol, HDL, LDL, triglycerides, etc.) for normal functioning of our bodies, which is why it is hard to call some “good” and some “bad”. But we need them in normal ranges, and in the absence of other factors like chronic inflammation that can lead them to contribute to problems such as plaque buildup in the arteries.
Maybe some of the focus needs to shift to be making sure that all levels are adequate versus just looking for the high ones. HDL’s are considered to be heart protective since they take excess LDL out of the blood stream and to the liver so that it can be recycled. They also help protect vessel walls from accruing damage that can lead to atherosclerosis. If you’re low in this important lipoprotein, you may be increasing heart attack risk by limiting some of your body’s own healthy maintenance routines!
While this research is still considered preliminary, it does offer some good advice to take to heart: make sure your HDL levels are in the normal range! Don’t know where yours are at? A simple blood test is all it takes to assess whether you need to make some modifications or are doing good through your daily routines. Not only do we offer these tests in our office, but if there is a deficiency, we have some great programs and supplements to help get your levels back in balance to make sure you’re giving your body the best chance to keep itself healthy! And remember – start early!