HDL-C: role as a risk modifier.Atheroscler Suppl 2011; 12(3):267-70AS
Evidence that low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C) causes cardiovascular disease (CVD) is overwhelming. It has also been proven beyond all doubt that lowering the level of LDL-C using statins reduces CV risk. However, many people remain at high risk even when their level of LDL-C has been reduced by aggressive treatment with statins. One reason for this residual risk can be a low level of high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C). The concentration of HDL-C is an independent, inverse predictor for CVD. This relationship is apparent even when treatment with statins has reduced the level of LDL-C to below 1.8 mmol/L (70 mg/dL). It has therefore been suggested that raising the level of HDL-C should be considered as a therapeutic strategy for reducing the residual CV risk that persists in some people, despite aggressive LDL-C lowering with statins. HDL particles have several functions with the potential to protect against arterial disease, the best known of which relates to their ability to promote cholesterol efflux from macrophages in the artery wall. However, HDLs have several additional protective properties that are independent of their involvement in cholesterol metabolism. For example, they have properties that reduce oxidation, vascular inflammation and thrombosis, improve endothelial function, promote endothelial repair, enhance insulin sensitivity and promote insulin secretion by pancreatic beta islet cells. There is also a large and compelling body of evidence in animal models showing that interventions that increase HDL levels are profoundly anti-atherogenic. Major causes of low HDL are abdominal obesity and type 2 diabetes, the worldwide incidences of which are increasing at alarming rates. Strategies to increase the concentration of HDL should begin with lifestyle changes such as weight reduction, increased physical activity and smoking cessation. However, compliance with such measures is frequently poor and pharmacological intervention may be required. Currently available HDL-raising medications include fibrates, niacin and statins. There is indisputable evidence that lowering LDL-C levels using statins translates into a large reduction in CV risk. There is also mounting evidence that increasing the level of HDL-C using statins contributes to an additional reduction in CV risk. For example, the increase in HDL-C levels that was associated with simvastatin treatment in the 4S study was a significant predictor for the reduction in CV events. Moreover, a meta-analysis of 1,455 patients in 4 coronary intravascular ultrasound imaging trials showed that both the achieved level of LDL-C and the increase in HDL-C concentration during statin treatment were significant independent predictors for coronary atheroma progression as assessed by coronary intravascular ultrasound. In conclusion, evidence suggests that low levels of HDL-C are associated with an increased CV risk even when LDL-C is reduced to below 1.7 mmol/L (70 mg/dL) with a statin. Moreover, there is mounting evidence that increasing the level of HDL-C has the capacity to reduce CV risk. Thus, there is a compelling case for targeting both the LDL and HDL fractions to reduce CV risk in people with dyslipidemia, high CV risk and low levels of HDL-C.