You’ve probably heard HDL referred to as the “good” cholesterol. But you might not know what makes it so good. Why is some cholesterol helpful to the heart and other cholesterol (namely LDL) harmful? But there’s more to the story of cholesterol and cardiovascular risk than LDL. High-density lipoprotein (HDL), dubbed the “good” cholesterol, removes LDL from the artery walls and ferries it back to the liver for processing or removal, lowering LDL.
According to Harvard Health Publications, HDL also acts as:
An antioxidant – antioxidants can protect against coronary artery disease.
An anti-inflammatory – Though inflammation is an essential part of the body’s defenses, it can cause problems, too. In the heart, inflammation can trigger atherosclerosis, and influence the formation of artery-blocking clots, the ultimate cause of heart attacks and many strokes.
An antithrombotic – Thrombosis is the forming of clots, and preventing these clots from forming in the coronary arteries can prevent heart attack and stroke. People with low levels of HDL are more likely to have heart attacks and strokes; high levels appear to be protective. In the Framingham Heart Study, low levels of HDL were an even more potent risk factor for heart disease than high levels of LDL. Other studies have linked high HDL levels to a reduced risk of stroke, greater longevity, and better cognitive function in old age with lowered risk of Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia.
Shift of Focus?
Since HDL is so protective, and increased levels will automatically then why is the traditional medical focus on lowering cholesterol? The fact is, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Since cholesterol lowering drugs are one of the most widely prescribed categories of drugs in the U.S, it may be that these ongoing efforts to lower cholesterol are actually increasing the risk of heart disease instead of lowering it. Artificially lowering LDL levels with drugs disrupts the natural cholesterol balance and can cause some unpredictable effects. Moreover, there is also rapid increase in the rate of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia which are associated with lower cholesterol levels, specifically HDL, according to the researchers at Harvard Medical School.
What can you do about cholesterol?
The goal should be to INCREASE YOUR CHOLESTEROL, specifically HDL. When you increase HDL levels, your body automatically lowers LDL levels and creates its own dynamic balance. Fortunately, increasing HDL involves simple lifestyle modifications that include eating a predominantly plant based diet, rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. These changes along with exercise, limited alcohol intake and weight loss, have been proven to be the most effective strategies for achieving heart and brain protective cholesterol levels.