‘Good’ Cholesterol May Not Be So Great After All

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Bad news for good cholesterol: A Danish study published in European Heart Journal finds that people with extremely high high-density lipoprotein (HDL, often called “good” cholesterol) levels face a higher, not lower, risk of death.

Cholesterol as a substance is neither good nor bad, but an important part of our body chemistry. Like most things, in moderation, it's fine; the health risks set in once our levels get out of whack. Scientists and doctors have long understood cholesterol as a sort of angel-on-one-shoulder, devil-on-the-other situation, in which low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is harmful and HDL is helpful. HDL mediates LDL's negative effects, which means that having more HDL is good.

Or at least that's what we thought.

Researchers pulled health information on 116,000 people from the Copenhagen City Heart Study and the Copenhagen General Population Study, then cross-checked it against death reports from the Danish Civil Registration System. They followed study subjects for six years, during which more than 10,500 people died. 

What they found surprised them. Extremely high levels of HDL were associated with significantly greater risks of death than normal levels—68 percent higher for women and a staggering 106 percent for men. Men with very high HDL (one step down from "extremely high") were 36 percent more likely to die.

"These results radically change the way we understand 'good' cholesterol. Doctors like myself have been used to congratulating patients who had a very high level of HDL in their blood. But we should no longer do so, as this study shows a dramatically higher mortality rate," co-author Børge Nordestgaard of the University of Copenhagen said in a statement.

Before we get too worried, it's worth noting that these extremely high HDL levels were incredibly rare, affecting only 0.4 percent of male participants and 0.3 percent of women. The researchers say these people were also more likely to share unusual genetic variants. It's possible that these genes and not the cholesterol are responsible for their higher mortality rates.

Some elements of our ideas about cholesterol still held true. People with extremely low HDL levels also faced an increased mortality risk.

The safest levels seemed to be right in the middle, at 1.9 mmol/L for men and 2.4 mmol/L for women. 

More research is needed, as this study focused exclusively on white Danish people and only looked at correlation, not causation. 

Still, Nordestgaard said, "It appears that we need to remove the focus from HDL as an important health indicator in research, at hospitals and at the general practitioner. These are the smallest lipoproteins in the blood, and perhaps we ought to examine some of the larger ones instead."

Ground Beef Targeted by Massive Recall Might Still Be in Your Freezer

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More than 132,000 pounds of ground beef produced by Cargill Meat Solutions were recalled on September 19 due to a risk of E. coli O26, according to a news release from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. The affected beef was produced and packaged on June 21, so you may want to check your freezer for any burger patties or homemade bolognese sauce you stored away over the summer.

“FSIS is concerned that some product may be frozen and in consumers’ freezers,” the agency said in a statement. “Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.”

Cargill Meat Solutions is based in Colorado, but these products have been shipped across the country. One death and 17 illnesses have been linked to the outbreak so far, with the dates of illness ranging from July 5 to July 25. According to the FSIS, people usually become ill within three to four days of exposure to E. coli O26. Symptoms include diarrhea (often bloody) and vomiting.

The recalled products have the establishment number “EST. 86R” inside the USDA inspection mark on the package. To see the 12 varieties of ground beef that were affected, click the following link [PDF].

The 'Pet First Aid' App From the Red Cross Prepares Pet Parents for Almost Any Situation

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People who have owned a cat or dog for years know intimate facts about their pet's health—like how many pairs of shoes they can eat without getting sick, or how many hours a day they can sleep without warranting a trip to the vet. But pet parents just starting out are often left in the dark when it comes to decoding their fur baby's behaviors. The Red Cross aims to demystify the process of raising a pet with a new app called Pet First Aid.

As Life Hacker reports, the first aid app is designed to prepare pet parents for a range of situations regarding their pet's health. If your dog is panting particularly hard after a long walk, the app will tell you if their breathing rate is normal; if your cat looks dehydrated, it can show you how to test its capillary refill time.

The resource is best used as a study tool, so if a pet health emergency does occur, you'll be prepared for it. After reading up on guides detailing pet CPR and how to treat a pet that's bleeding, you can test your animal-care knowledge with built-in quizzes.

The Red Cross makes it clear that its app is no replacement for a licensed medical professional, and even gives you the option to upload your vet's phone number or search for nearby animal hospitals within the app. Hopefully, the app's features for non-emergency situations, like its pet-friendly hotel locator, will get the most use.

You can download Pet First Aid for free from the Google Play store.

[h/t Life Hacker]

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