The Evolving Heart of Health Science: Upending The Notion of Good Cholesterol

Every day, new medical studies are released that question some widely held perceptions on health and fitness. Still in its nascent stages, nutrition is far from a collection of undeniable truths that make up a collection of firm rules. This makes studying to become a health professional more of a lifelong journey, instead of a trip through school. This also makes many skeptical when new findings come out. Recently, a study was published that upended many long held ideas about cholesterol and heart health, a disease that kills 910,000 Americans every year.

Too much cholesterol, a fatty substance often found in the blood, can put you at risk for cardiovascular disease. Research within the past few decades indicated that HDL cholesterol, as opposed to LDL cholesterol, was a kind of “good” cholesterol. Patients with high levels of HDL were found to have low instances of heart disease. This led to a number of medical practices aimed at increasing HDL cholesterol, including the development of pharmaceuticals designed to raise those cholesterol levels in the bloodstream.

A New York Times article from May 2012 reports a study with some troubling implications for this commonly-held notion. The study found that the link between high HDL levels and lower risks of heart disease was much weaker than originally thought. Research of huge new stores of genetic information found that cardiovascular risks were similar regardless of the subject’s genetic predisposition regarding HDL cholesterol. The study doesn’t debunk previous findings that higher HDL levels are associated with lower heart disease risks, but it does deflate the argument that increased HDL levels contribute directly to lower rates of heart disease.

Medical research can also uncover dramatic health issues in conditions that were previously thought to be tamer. For instance, a CBS News report uncovered a possible link between sleep apnea, a condition of abnormal breathing during sleep, and cancer.

The study, originally published by The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, found that patients suffering from sleep apnea are five times more likely to die by cancer than those not affected by the breathing condition. Research included mortality data over 22 years for more than 1,500 individuals collected by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. Findings were also partly based on research provided by Spain’s University of Barcelona, where researchers found that oxygen deprivation in mice led to tumor growth.

Health professionals can build careers by performing medical research for studies just like these. The fact that we’re still questioning traditional beliefs on health concerns proves that there’s plenty of work in health research that remains to be done. Some state governments are helping to improve the quality of their health research professionals by providing state programs designed to improve educational access for interested students.

California is home to the state-operated Health Professions Education Foundation, a non-profit foundation improving medical access to underserved populations and funding medical education for underprivileged students. The foundation offers a number of scholarship and loan repayment programs for various careers in the medical profession, including vocational nursing and mental health professions.

Staying on the cutting edge of medical research will help to keep our country healthier. Preparing for a professional career in health research can put you on the exciting front lines of the medical frontier, where the norm is always changing and new findings can help add years to a person’s life.

About the Author

Drew Hendricks
Drew Hendricks is the Lead Editor for Z6 Mag and also a contributor to a variety of other publications.

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