Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, and high cholesterol levels are a primary contributor to heart disease. But the cholesterol story is a bit complicated – some of it is damaging to blood vessels (Low Density Lipoproteins or LDL is considered “bad” cholesterol) and some of it is restorative (High Density Lipoproteins or HDL is “good” cholesterol). Most medications are aimed at lowering the “bad” cholesterol, and this strategy has been very helpful in reducing heart disease and atherosclerosis. But what about raising the good cholesterol as part of a heart healthy strategy?
A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that having low levels of HDL can put people at risk for heart disease and heart attacks, even if the LDL is well controlled. This is the first study to show that low LDL does not erase heart disease risk if the individual’s HDL is also low. In fact, each increase of 1 mg in HDL cholesterol is associated with a decrease of 2 to 3% in the risk of future coronary heart disease. So lowering LDL with statins (if lifestyle measures fail) is only half the battle for those who also have low HDL.So how do you increase your HDL levels?The most effective medicine for raising HDL is a type of Vitamin B called niacin. Taken in the quantities required to have an effect on HDL, though, there are usually unpleasant side effects: flushing (redness or warmth of the face), itching, stomach upset, mild dizziness, and headache.
Perhaps the best way to increase HDL is to lose weight and exercise regularly.? In fact, the list of HDL-raising “to do’s” reads like a healthy living manual:
1. Avoid trans fats
2. Drink alcohol in moderation
3. Add fiber to your diet
4. Use monounsaturated fats like olive oil where possible
5. Stop smoking
6. Lose weight
7. Engage in regular aerobic exercise
So next time you see your doctor, make sure you review your cholesterol levels, and discuss some strategies to get your levels of HDL and LDL in the optimal zones for a healthy heart.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.