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Higher HDL Levels May Not Be Best for Postmenopausal Women

Study finds that 'good' cholesterol is associated with artery plaque buildup

Pills on the results of blood testing, including testing for cholesterol

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Although HDL cholesterol is known to have benefits,  too much of it may not be the best thing for older women.

In a study recently published online in the medical journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, researchers report postmenopausal women with higher HDL levels tended to have more plaque buildup in their carotid arteries, a condition that can lead to heart disease and stroke.

In a story in the Chicago Tribune, Karol Watson, M.D., director of the UCLA-Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Health Program, suggested a reassessment of desired HDL levels.

“We used to think, the higher the better,” Watson, who was not involved with the study, told the Tribune. “But we’ve been rethinking HDL in recent years.”

Among the 1,380 postmenopausal women in the HDL study, higher HDL cholesterol was associated with higher risk of carotid plaque, the researchers found. The plaque association “was most evident in women who reported later age at menopause and were [more than] 10 years postmenopausal,” they wrote.

The most recent study notes previous research that has found that for middle-aged and older women, HDL “is not always protective” and is tied to greater risks of nonfatal stroke and artery plaque buildup. The latest study results, researchers say, support “the importance of assessing how the menopause transition might impact HDL quality and how that might impact women’s risk of [cardiovascular disease] later in life.” A longitudinal study that specifically assesses HDL during the stages of menopause “will significantly enhance our understanding of the complex association of the menopause and HDL."