When my dad went under the knife in 1970 after his second heart attack, the concept of good and bad cholesterol was the stuff of medical headlines. The notion that some lipoproteins were better than others offered those of us genetically predisposed to carry more total cholesterol than most a reason to believe we might avoid a heart attack or stroke.
This can cause some confusion, however. All these years later, I still have some difficulty deciding whether to root for my HDLs or my LDLs. Is it the high number of “good” cholesterol (HDL) more important than the low number of “bad” (LDL)? Do they balance themselves out or does total cholesterol make all the difference? It’s confusing.
Like my late father, who was ultimately done in not by his faulty heart but by cancer, I am rich in cholesterol. This has caused no end of warnings from well-intentioned doctors over the years. During my brief, feverish fling with Western medicine last summer, for instance, my enthusiastic physicians insisted my lofty cholesterol numbers, when combined with my high blood pressure and various inflammatory symptoms, made me a fine candidate for a 90-day regimen of statins.
I declined, calling their attention to my excellent supply of high-density lipoproteins and the dearth of the bad low-density lipoproteins. They countered with some vague warning involving the relative fluffiness of my LDL particles, a bit of intelligence I promptly ignored.
But now I’m wondering how I might ramp up my production of bad cholesterol. It might help me live longer.
This change of heart was prompted by a new study out of the University of South Florida that suggests “bad” cholesterol has little effect on longevity and, in fact, might offer some health benefits as we roll through late-middle age.
USF researchers analyzed studies involving nearly 70,000 people age 60 and over and concluded that those with higher levels of LDL lived as long or longer than those with lower levels. As lead study author David Diamond, PhD, put it, “We found that several studies reported not only a lack of association between low LDL-C, but most people in these studies exhibited an inverse relationship, which means that higher LDL-C among the elderly is often associated with longer life.”
That’s because an adequate supply of cholesterol — good and bad — actually protects geezers from neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and may be linked to lower incidences of cancer and some infectious diseases.
Diamond’s findings offer an elegant argument against the use of statins (not that I need one), and might even convince folks my age that they can shed that low-fat diet and start enjoying real food again. And there’s nothing “bad” about that.