National Cholesterol Awareness Month: Raising Good Cholesterol More Important Than Previously Thought

Not all cholesterol is bad, and new studies are finding that raising good cholesterol–high-density lipoprotein (HDL) — may be even more important than previously believed.

Physicians have long been aware that people with low levels of HDL are at an increased risk of heart disease and heart attacks.  And new data from a study to determine HDL’s impact on cancer risk, suggest HDL may play additional roles in health overall. A new study in the June 22nd issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that low HDL can also increase the risk of cancer.  In fact, the study found that every 10-point increase in HDL corresponds to a 36-percent decrease in cancer risk.  Guidelines say that men should keep their HDL over 40 mg/dl, while women should be over 50 mg/dl, though, ideally, the number should be above 60 mg/dl for both sexes.

“The importance of HDL has long been overshadowed by LDL, its evil twin,” says Dr. Peter Alagona, M.D., Director of general cardiology at the Penn State Heart and Vascular Institute in Hershey, PA, who notes that he sees many patients who are confused about cholesterol, and whether they should be more concerned with lowering bad cholesterol or raising     good cholesterol—or doing both things simultaneously.  “There’s no one magic bullet to tackle blood cholesterols. Lifestyle changes, sometimes combined with medications, are most effective,” he says.

So, what can people do to raise HDL?  According to Dr. Peter Alagona, M.D:

  • Shed pounds: Losing weight not only increases HDL, but lowers LDL—bad cholesterol.  This is especially important for people who carry excess weight in their abdomens, a potential sign of heart disease.
  • Exercise: Aerobic exercise that raises heart rates for 20 to 30 minutes—walking, running, stair climbing, bike riding, swimming–could be the key to raising HDL levels
  • Stop smoking: Giving up smoking raises HDL levels.
  • Remove transfatty acids from your diet:   Check the labels of prepared foods to see if they contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which reduce HDL levels and raise LDL levels.
  • Increase the right fat in your diet: Increasing monounsaturated fats, including canola oil, avocado, olive oil, and peanut butter, can raise HDL without increasing LDL.
  • Eat more fiber: Eat at least two servings a day of foods that contain soluble fiber found in oats, fruits, vegetables and legumes, which will raise HDL and reduce LDL.
  • Talk to your doctor: There are other potential treatments that can help.

For more information, visit  the American Heart Association