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New study finds ‘good’ cholesterol isn’t always

I may ask for the name of this column to be changed.

It’s not that I no longer feel like the “Fitness Master.” Oh no. Far from it. It’s just that the new name I have in mind would more accurately reflect the column’s recent content.

To explain why, let’s equate writing this column to recording music. If that’s the case, you haven’t been hearing anything from me lately that could be filed as an MP3 or formatted digitally on a 120-millimeter CD.

That’s because I’m a 12-inch, spiral-grooved, dual-sided, edge-to-center, LP sort of guy. The analog format produces something warmer sounding and truer to life even though you hear a hiss or a scratch every now and then.

So if I’m writing column that is indeed like music pressed onto vinyl, it seems to me we should say goodbye to “The Fitness Master.”

And hello to “The Broken Record.”

Such a suggestion may strike you as a humorous attempt -or maybe a less-than-humorous one - at self-deprecation. Fair enough. But your quest for good health is no joke to me, and I believe as Hannah More, an 18th century English poet and playwright who also opined about religious and moral matters, believed.

“The world does not require so much to be informed as to be reminded.”

So I write with that always in mind.

Last week’s column, for instance, reminded you of the many benefits of exercise and stressed how transformative it can be. You read about my brother and how getting back to serious weightlifting was making just about every aspect of his life better.

The article before that informed you of a study that proposed the lack of protein in processed food abets obesity did so in part to remind you of the way of eating I’ve been advocating for more than 25 years.

So to keep to the - albeit the tongue-in-cheek - column title change, I’ll write something I’ve written in this column at least a dozen times.

Experiment, experiment, experiment.

It’s the most important element to any plan to improve or maintain your health. And this time, the reminder to do so is particularly apropos in light of a brand-new study that calls into question a long-held belief about cholesterol and heart health.

Since the 1970s and because of the Framingham study especially, we’ve taken a no-shades-of-gray view toward the two types of cholesterol.

Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are “bad” because, along with triglycerides, an excess of them can clog the arteries and reduce the blood supply to the heart - the cause of most heart disease and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the reason for one in every five deaths in the United States. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are “good” because when they circulate in the blood, they gather LDL and escort them to the liver to be processed, thereby keeping the arteries clog-free.

But a study led by Nathalie Pamir, Ph.D., an associate professor of medicine at the Knight Cardiovascular Institute at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, and published in the November issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, finds the former good-or-bad view not to be totally true.

Since the participants in prior cholesterol studies tended to be white adults, Pamir and colleagues used data culled for the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke study since slightly more than 42 percent of those 24,000 participants were Black.

Their review revealed that low levels of HDL cholesterol only created an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in white adults. Moreover, having a high HDL cholesterol level - something formerly believed to mitigate the danger of having a high LDL level - could not be linked to a lower risk for Blacks, whites, males, or females.

In other words, which happen to be the words Pamir used in an interview with Medical News Today, “Yes, there is a race effect.”

Factor in a prior study that found Blacks 12.3 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than whites yet more likely to die from it, and you can understand why Dr. Jayne Morgan, a cardiologist and the clinical director of the COVID Task Force at Piedmont Hospital/Healthcare in Atlanta, told Healthline that the lack of diversity in clinical trials has been the “biggest failure of medicine.”

While I don’t know enough to comment about that, I’ve read enough clinical trials to know this. There’s a really good chance the next one that makes national news includes many participants who share little in common with you.

Which means the conclusions reached in the paper written about it do not necessarily apply to you.

Hence, your never-ending need - if your goal is indeed optimal health - to engage in personal experimentation.

And the need for me to sound at times somewhat like a broken record.