Good Cholesterol Causes Macular Degeneration

Good Cholesterol Causes Macular Degeneration

It sounds crazy, but if you have increased levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), commonly thought of as good cholesterol, you could be at risk for developing early age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Recent studies are reporting similar conclusions regarding the incidence and probability of this head scratching link to HDL which may have you throwing up your hands. However, all is not lost as if you are at risk there are several things you can do to prevent macular degeneration possibly caused by high HDL.

HDL Is Not an Island

Just like the poet John Donne wrote, “no man is an island”, high-density lipoprotein must rely on so much more than its sole compounds to offer its “good cholesterol” benefits. This is the basis of why researchers are finding a link between HDL and AMD.

Unfortunately, any study or diet fad that makes it to the mainstream news acts as a two-edged sword. One aspect of such information is that it comes from valid research corroborated by peer reviews and professional cohorts which immediately makes people take notice. However, most of the detailed findings are often whittled down to a thirty-second soundbite that inevitably causes a majority of viewers to blindly follow like moths to a light. This has been the case with many health related research, including HDL.

The hype of getting good cholesterol from plant-based dietary changes and adequate exercise is an important part of maintaining optimal health. However, tipping the health scale may not be the best way to approach healthy changes.

Bel Marra Health reported on the most recent HDL research regarding its effect on cardiovascular disease,

“It is well known that having higher levels of HDL cholesterol can keep your heart healthy and lower your risk of heart disease,the study suggests that protective properties of HDL cholesterol do not work in isolation, but rather depend on other factors, namely, the levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. If these are not within a normal range, even high levels of HDL (which overall is a good thing) may not necessarily protect against heart disease.”

When HDL is out of balance it can have an opposite effect on your heart which in turn may affect your vision. Through this cardiovascular research, it shows how essential it is to view the influence of all kinds of cholesterol on the whole body, including the eyes. Recent findings of an early AMD connection due to too much HDL in the blood is one significant example.

The Trifecta Balance

Just like your intestinal health, it turns out that your blood needs both good and bad cholesterol to maintain a healthy balance.

The American Heart Association describes the three cholesterol factors as:

  • LDL – This cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein, is called “bad” cholesterol. Think of it as less desirable or even lousy cholesterol, because it contributes to fatty buildups in arteries.
  • HDL – Experts believe HDL acts as a scavenger, carrying LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver where it is broken down and passed from the body.
  • Triglycerides – The most common type of fat in the body; they store excess energy from your diet. A high triglyceride level combined with low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol is linked with fatty buildups in artery walls.

It is no surprise that with these cholesterol standards you would most likely increase your HDL intake. However, when anything in the body gets thrown off balance (yes even too much of a good thing).

According to MPR News,

“There is a higher risk for early age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in individuals with high plasma high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, according to a study published online March 29 in JAMA Ophthalmology. Valentine Saunier, MD, from the Université de Bordeaux in France, and colleagues describe the incidence and associated risk factors of AMD among 659 residents of Bordeaux in France who were aged 73 years or older at baseline.”

So the key here is high plasma high-density protein which you may or may not have.

The Merck Manual, a top medical reference, describes three causes of elevated HDL which are:

  • Single or multiple genetic mutations results in overproduction or decreased clearance of HDL
  • Chronic alcoholism without cirrhosis
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Drugs (eg, corticosteroids, insulin, phenytoin [dilantin], estrogen)

HDL Genes

When it comes to HDL throwing off delicate systemic functions, it is important to look at the big picture. According to a recent research published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, it was stated that, 

“Our study, published recently in the IJE, casts further doubt on this “not-so-good-anymore” cholesterol by showing that genetic variants that cause higher HDL-C levels also increase the risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD).”

A study of the cholesterol genes was reported by The Macula Center, stating that,

“A team of physicians and researchers at the National Eye Institute and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, analyzed the genomes of more than 18,000 people. The study uncovered three genes associated with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) risk – Two of these genes were in the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol pathway. These findings are significant because they’ve uncovered a major biochemical pathway that may be the subject of future AMD treatments.”

Currently scientists are determining the best course of treatment for excess HDL such as drugs to reduce it’s absorption in the body. The IJE continues to report stating,

“[It] will be particularly important for assessing whether drugs that reduce HDL-C levels could be of benefit to treat or prevent AMD. Of potentially more importance is that drugs that elevate HDL-C levels — ranging from statins that mildly increase HDL-C, to niacin that elevates HDL-C by more than 20% — are routinely being used in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. It can thus be expected that all “eyes” will be on a new generation of drugs that target CETP to elevate HDL-C levels

Your HDL levels are usually measured through a health checkup blood test. Talk to your doctor about normal levels that apply to you and if yours are higher. Then stay tuned as research advances and how it may affect your chances of preventing early development of age-related macular degeneration.

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