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High HDL Levels Protect Heart Health
Date:9/26/2007

Reduced risk of cardiovascular trouble even when LDL levels were low, study finds

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 26 (HealthDay News) -- High levels of "good" HDL cholesterol protect against heart disease and stroke no matter what the blood levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol are, a new study shows.

The incidence of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular problems was 40 percent lower in the one-fifth of participants in a major trial who had the highest HDL cholesterol levels, regardless of their LDL cholesterol levels, according to a report in the Sept. 27 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The protective effect of high HDL readings was evident even in patients with an LDL reading below 70, well under the recommended level for heart health.

"The fundamental important message of the paper is that if you take HDL high enough, LDL doesn't matter," said study author Dr. Philip Barter, director of the Heart Research Institute in Sydney, Australia.

LDL cholesterol is involved in the formation of fatty plaques that eventually can block an artery; HDL cholesterol prevents the formation of those plaque.

"What we desperately need is a new drug to raise HDL levels," Barter said.

No such drug is in sight, however. Pfizer halted a 15,000-participant trial of an HDL-raising drug, torcetrapib, last year, because the death rate was higher in those taking the drug than in those taking a placebo. Pfizer had planned to market torcetrapib in combination with its LDL-lowering statin, Lipitor.

The only available HDL-raising drug therapy now available is large doses of niacin, which can increase HDL levels by about 20 percent, Barter said. But that treatment has annoying side effects, such as serious skin flushing and itching, he said. New formulations have lessened but not eliminated the side effects, he added.

Barter is now doing studies to determine whether the damage caused by torcetrapib
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