When good cholesterol goes bad

January 27, 2014 at 11:10 AM EDT
Photo by Steven Tom/Flickr

Photo by Steven Tom/Flickr

The battle of good vs. bad cholesterol might not be so simple anymore.

HDL, the so-called good cholesterol associated with foods like avocados, olive oil, beans and oily fish, was shown to be associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, the BBC reports.

Generally, HDL is considered a “friendly scavenger” that sucks up bad cholesterol as it cruises the bloodstream. However, researchers at Cleveland Clinic found that HDL can be altered when it’s in artery walls. The now abnormal — and detectable — HDL could then seep back into the blood stream and cause blocked blood vessels. The risk of cardiovascular disease was then predicted, based on levels of abnormal HDL.

“This data does not change the message of eat healthily,” researcher Dr. Stanley Hazen said of the findings. Rather, he thought the evidence might be useful in helping engineer medication to prevent HDL from altering.

Their findings were published in the journal of Nature Medicine Sunday and based on 627 patient tests.