Findings from a new genetic study suggest that “good cholesterol” or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) may not actually lower the risk of heart disease.

Researchers from the latest study, published Wednesday in The Lancet, challenged the established notion that high levels of HDL lowers and low levels of HDL increases heart attack risk.

Scientists from the Broad Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital studied links between genetic variations, HDL levels and heart attacks in over 170,000 individuals and found that participants individuals with particular gene variants that raised levels of HDL showed no difference in their risk of heart disease compared to people without the variant and had lower levels of HDL.

"It's been assumed that if a patient, or group of patients, did something to cause their HDL levels to go up, then you can safely assume that their risk of heart attack will go down," said researcher Sekar Kathiresan, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement. "This work fundamentally questions that."

Researchers noted that the findings do not contradict the concept that low levels of HDL are a good predictor of later heart disease, in fact HDL is an excellent indicator, and doctors should continue to use it as a way to identify patients at risk of cardiovascular disease.

However, researchers said that the findings suggest that attempts to artificially boost HDL levels with drugs or lifestyle changes may be useless in lowering the risk of heart disease.

"We know that HDL is a great biomarker — it's quite useful in identifying individuals at higher risk of having a heart attack in the future," said Kathiresan. "But we have shown that you cannot assume that raising HDL by any mechanism will help patients. Perhaps other mechanisms exist that can lower risk, but we will need to keep searching for them."

Researchers recommend that people focus on lowering levels of “bad cholesterol” or Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Health experts noted that the risk of heart attack is influenced by many variables and cannot be confined into a single risk factor like low HDL. Besides looking at DNA, factors like high blood pressure, high blood glucose, obesity and tobacco should also be addressed when evaluating the risk for heart disease.