With Cholesterol, Focus on the Right Numbers

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Filed Under: Heart Health, Cholesterol
Last Reviewed 06/25/2014

With Cholesterol, Focus on the Right Numbers

Many doctors are still focusing on the wrong type of cholesterol. Early on in my career, I made that same mistake. Like many cardiologists I viewed basic cholesterol numbers as a telltale sign 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.

Many doctors have still focused on ridding the body of LDL cholesterol. Yet, 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 cholesterol and over to HDL cholesterol. 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 Cholesterol 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.

What's Also Important is Your HDL-Triglyceride Ratio

In addition to raising your HDL cholesterol, you want to lower you triglycerides. Ideally, you want to achieve no more than a two-to-one ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol. For example, if your triglycerides are 100 mg/dl, you want your HDL cholesterol to be 50 mg/dl. While the two-to-one ratio is ideal, anything under 3.5 is a good ratio. But I don't like to see a blood ratio that's greater than five.

If your triglycerides are high, you can bring them down by reducing your intake of processed carbohydrates and sugar, and losing weight. Even a modest weight loss can bring your triglycerides down significantly. Omega-3 essential fatty acids, 2-3 grams daily in divided doses, can also help to reduce your triglyceride level.

I'm a personal testament to what a huge difference lifestyle changes can make when it comes to cholesterol. After losing just eight pounds by taking a green tea supplement, I had my cholesterol tested and my HDL was 60 and my triglycerides were 46, which is an ideal ratio.  

Note: This blog was originally written to help support my free online webinar, The Great Cholesterol Myth--Debunked! If you missed it you can view it now.

Now it’s your turn: Have you had your HDL levels tested recently?

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