Many Doctors Are Focusing On the Wrong Type of Cholesterol
Earlier on, like most cardiologists I viewed basic cholesterol numbers as telltale signs of illness. Fortunately, I got wise over time after seeing too many heart attacks among patients who had so-called “normal cholesterol.”
Having given up on the cholesterol theory—at least with the obsession of lowering LDL cholesterol—I’ve focused instead on ridding the body of inflammation, the real cause of arterial destruction and cardiovascular disease.
Yet, many doctors have still focused on ridding the body of LDL cholesterol. And despite aggressive efforts to lower LDL cholesterol, many heart patients continue to be at significant risk for cardiovascular events.
This suggests to me that doctors should switch their cholesterol focus away from LDL and over to HDL. HDL serves the body as a lipid garbage truck, picking up oxidized LDL and excess cholesterol particles and carrying them back to the liver for processing into steroid hormones and bile acids. HDL thus reduces the potential of LDL to get in harm’s way.
What should your HDL levels be? Ideally, your HDL cholesterol should be 60 mg/dL or greater. At a minimum, men should be at 35 mg/dL and women at 40 mg/dL or more.
If your HDL level is low, here’s how to raise it:
- First and foremost, take niacin (vitamin B3). Niacin is one of the most powerful nutrients available to raise HDL cholesterol. When you take niacin, you’ll likely experience a tingly, pins-and-needles, sometimes hot, flushing of the skin. This typically lasts no more than a half-hour to an hour. The higher the initial dose, the greater the initial flushing effect. My recommendation is that you start with 250 mg of niacin three times daily, and slowly work up to 1–3 grams in divided doses three times a day.
- Get regular, physical exercise. Strive for 30–60 minutes of aerobic activity three to five days a week.
- Drink red wine in moderation. Red wine helps to boost HDL cholesterol, plus it contains resveratrol, a phytonutrient with cardio-protective benefits.
- Diet is crucial. As always, the food you eat plays a big role in your heart—and overall—health. To avoid dips in your HDL levels, avoid processed foods, as well as those high in sugar and trans fats. Instead, opt for foods that are rich in heart-healthy fats and soluble fiber.
Now it’s your turn: Have you had your HDL levels tested recently?
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Meet Dr. Sinatra
Dr. Stephen Sinatra is a highly respected and sought-after cardiologist and nutritionist with more than 30 years of clinical practice, research, and study. His integrative approach to heart health focuses on reducing inflammation in the body and maximizing the heart's ability to produce and use energy. More About Dr. Sinatra
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