Chocolate fans rejoice! You might have heard that chocolate is good for you, and it's true. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain powerful antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, which help lower cholesterol. Milk chocolate has less cocoa solids, and thus lower flavonoid levels, and white chocolate is even lower in the good stuff. Reach for small portions of dark chocolate, preferably with a high cocoa content. Or try a sprinkle of cocoa powder in your smoothie or on yogurt to reap chocolate's cholesterol-lowering benefits.
Too much cholesterol in the blood builds up on artery walls causing hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). The buildup of cholesterol narrows arteries, slowing or blocking the flow of oxygen-carrying blood to the heart, which can manifest as chest pain. If blood flow to the heart is cut off because of clogged arteries, the result is damage to the heart muscle – a heart attack.
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HDL particles are heterogeneous. They can be classified as a larger, less dense HDL2 or a smaller, denser HDL3.  Normally, most of the plasma HDL is found in HDL3.  To add to the complexity of HDL classification, HDL is composed of 4 apolipoproteins per particle. HDL may be composed of apo A-I and apo A-II or of apo A-I alone. HDL2 is usually made up only of apo A-I, while HDL3 contains a combination of apo A-I and apo A-II. HDL particles that are less dense than HDL2 are rich in apo E.
Take fish oil. Fish oil contains an abundance of essential omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s) that have been shown to lower triglyceride (blood fat) levels, minimize inflammation and clotting, and increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Research indicates that omega-3s may help reduce the risk and symptoms of a variety of disorders influenced by inflammation, including heart attack and stroke. You can add omega-3s to your diet by eating more cold water fish such as wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel and black cod. If that’s not possible, Dr. Weil recommends taking two grams daily of a fish oil supplement that contains both essential omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). When choosing a supplement, look for one derived from molecularly distilled fish oils – these are naturally high in both EPA and DHA and low in contaminants. Also choose a supplement brand that has been independently tested and guaranteed to be free of heavy metals such as mercury and lead, and other environmental toxins including polychlorinated biphenyls, also known as PCBs.
Aside from the inconvenience of taking niacin, two recent, highly-anticipated clinical trials have suggested that raising HDL levels with niacin failed to demonstrate any improvement in cardiovascular outcomes. Furthermore, treatment with niacin was associated with an increased risk of stroke and increased diabetic complications. At this point, most doctors are very reluctant to prescribe niacin therapy for the purpose of raising HDL levels.
Heart-healthy eating. A heart-healthy eating plan limits the amount of saturated and trans fats that you eat. It recommends that you eat and drink only enough calories to stay at a healthy weight and avoid weight gain. It encourages you to choose a variety of nutritious foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Examples of eating plans that can lower your cholesterol include the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet and the DASH eating plan.
George T Griffing, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Society for Clinical Densitometry, Southern Society for Clinical Investigation, American College of Medical Practice Executives, American Association for Physician Leadership, American College of Physicians, American Diabetes Association, American Federation for Medical Research, American Heart Association, Central Society for Clinical and Translational Research, Endocrine Society