New Research Challenges Everything You Knew About “Bad” Cholesterol

New Research Challenges Everything You Knew About “Bad” Cholesterol

Here’s the frustrating truth: health studies sometimes contradict one another. One day it seems egg yolks are off limits, and the next day they’re said to be perfectly fine. Confusing, right?

This summer, even long-established views on cholesterol were challenged when media outlets reported, despite what we’ve been told for decades: “there’s no link between high cholesterol levels and heart disease”.

“Bad Cholesterol ‘Helps You Live Longer,’” said one headline.

“High Cholesterol ‘Does Not Cause Heart Disease’ New Research Finds, So Treating With Statins a ‘Waste of Time,’” said another.

These news outlets were reporting on the conclusions reached by researchers after a comprehensive review of 30 separate studies that investigated whether low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) affected the mortality rates of older people. You may know LDL cholesterol as “bad” cholesterol because it can contribute to hardening of the arteries and blood clots that may lead to strokes and heart attacks. The researchers concluded that people with high levels of LDL cholesterol lived as long as or even longer than those with low levels.

So, should you rethink the way you view cholesterol based on this research?

Not so fast. PubMed Health, a service from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, took issue with the findings and published its own deep analysis of the study. They noted that, among its numerous limitations, researchers may have overlooked relevant studies and may not have accounted for study participants who started with high cholesterol levels but then began taking statins to lower it, thereby reducing their risk of death. In the end, PubMed reviewers said that while the findings made for clickable headlines, more research needs to be done before cholesterol recommendations change. Until then, they suggest people taking statins continue as usual.

Other studies and organizations maintain that LDL cholesterol is harmful and can negatively impact the way blood vessels function. The American Heart Association stands by claims that “bad” cholesterol puts you at risk for cardiovascular disease.

Until, and unless, conclusive data can be found and agreed upon by all sides regarding the true role of cholesterol in our lives, the safest thing for you to do is to maintain your vigilance and err on the side of caution. Ask your healthcare professional about your risk factors and follow your prescribed regimen.

About the Author:

Moira Lawler earned her bachelor's degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Since then, she’s written about a range of lifestyle topics, but she loves health and fitness the most. She has written for magazines and websites, including Men's Health, Crain's Chicago Business,,, and When she’s not writing, Moira’s probably running or walking in her hometown of Chicago, always trying to reach her daily step goal.


Ravnskov, U, Diamond, D, Hama, R, et. al. (2016) Lack of an association or an inverse association between low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol and mortality in the elderly: a systematic review, BMJ Open.

Good vs. Bad Cholesterol, American Heart Association.

Study says there's no link between cholesterol and heart disease, PubMed Health. 

LDL and HDL: “Bad” and “Good” Cholesterol, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The Basics: Cholesterol Test, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Cholesterol Abnormalities & Diabetes, American Heart Association. 

Delles, C, Dymott, JA, Neisius, U, et. al. (2010). Reduced LDL-cholesterol levels in patients with coronary artery disease are paralleled by improved endothelial function: An observational study in patients from 2003 and 2007, Atherosclerosis.

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