Gilbert's Disease

Bilirubin is a yellow pigment released from dead red blood cells into your bloodstream.

Researchers at the University of in Utah School of Medicine showed that men and women with high blood levels of bilirubin have an extraordinarily low chance of getting heart attacks and those with low blood levels were at significantly increased risk for developing heart attacks.

Red blood cells last about 120 days, then burst and release a pigment called bilirubin into the bloodstream. The liver picks it up, converts it to bile and it flushes it from your body. The liver of some people cannot convert bilirubin into a form that is easily removed, so bilirubin rises to higher-than-normal levels. Since high blood levels of bilirubin are associated with liver disease and certain type of anemia, doctors often order extra tests whenever a person has high blood levels of bilirubin. Five percent of Americans have high blood levels of bilirubin and suffer no ill effects from it. These people are usually told that they have Gilbert's disease and have nothing wrong with them. Now we learn that not only is Gilbert's disease not harmful, it may prolong life by preventing heart attacks. The bad LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream must be converted to oxidized LDL before it can form plaques in arteries. Bilirubin helps to prevent oxidized LDL cholesterol from forming and therefore prevents heart attacks.

By Gabe Mirkin, M.D., for CBS Radio News Checked 4/28/12

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