Coronary heart disease: What you need to know The coronary arteries supply oxygen and blood to the heart. They can narrow, often because cholesterol accumulates on the arteries’ walls. This results in coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease in the U.S. Here, learn about risk factors, early warning signs, means of prevention, and treatments. Read now
Ground-breaking research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) studied nearly 9,000 European patients. All had previously suffered heart attacks. The trial found that those who reduced their LDL levels to an average 81 with high-dose statins significantly reduced their risk of major coronary events like heart attacks and strokes at the 4.8 year follow-up compared to patients who reduced their LDL to 104 on usual-dose statin therapy.
HDL cholesterol is “good” because elevated blood levels have been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. However, clinical trials with experimental medications aimed at increasing HDL cholesterol levels, so far, have been largely disappointing. HDL researchers have gone back to the drawing board to figure out what it is about HDL that may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Are you pouring up a glass of OJ in the morning? Is your daily caffeine fix a fountain coke at the local gas station? What about that fruity cocktail tempting you at happy hour? Eliminating sweetened beverages from the daily routine is one of the easiest ways to cut thousands of calories or more per week, but will also put years on your life. Water is the best form of hydration and can be flavored with citrus, tropical fruits, and herbs to create a refreshing spa-like oasis that will increase HDL levels when it replaces your typical sugar-sweetened beverages.
Barley contains a powerful type of soluble fiber that helps keep cholesterol levels in check by effectively lowering total and LDL cholesterol without affecting HDL. This beta-glucan fiber works by preventing the body's absorption of cholesterol from food. Look for minimally processed pearled barley, the variety most commonly found in supermarkets.
An easy way to make the switch from trans fats is by replacing them with unsaturated fats, which don’t increase your LDL cholesterol, according to WebMD. Unsaturated fats are found in olive oil, canola oil, vegetable and sunflower oils, as well as fish, nuts, seeds and avocados. Just as unsaturated fats are healthy choices, unsaturated fats are not. Be sure to limit your intake of unsaturated fats, which are found in fatty meats, cold cuts, whole milk, whole-milk cheeses and many store-bought baked goods and snacks. Instead, enjoy lean cuts of meat, skim milk, low-fat cheeses and yogurt, and wholesome snacks to trim down your cholesterol levels. 

8. Foods fortified with sterols and stanols. Sterols and stanols extracted from plants gum up the body's ability to absorb cholesterol from food. Companies are adding them to foods ranging from margarine and granola bars to orange juice and chocolate. They're also available as supplements. Getting 2 grams of plant sterols or stanols a day can lower LDL cholesterol by about 10%.

Lentils are pulses, a.k.a. the dry edible seeds of certain crops (like beans, chickpeas, and peas). Pulses are just everywhere these days because they’re packed with plant-based protein and fiber, not to mention antioxidants, minerals, and B vitamins. All of those compounds help protect you from plaque buildup while optimizing blood flow and assisting your body in efficiently using the nutrients you consume.


Typically, a fasting plasma lipid profile is ordered to measure LDL, HDL, total cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Lipids in plasma and in isolated lipoprotein fractions are quantified by enzymatic methods. Prior consumption of food has little effect on the determination of HDL, with postprandial blood samples usually yielding results that can be well interpreted. [14, 2] Current clinically available techniques can determine the cholesterol content, but not the biologic function, of HDL particles. [2]
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
"These fish are best for cholesterol, but any fish is better than red meat," says Pacold. “Every time you have fish as a protein source instead of red meat, you are doing your heart a favor.” If you don't eat fish, you can get your needed dose of omega-3s in the form of a diet supplement pill, he suggests. Flaxseeds, walnuts, and even mixed greens are plant-based options to get more omega-3s in your diet.
Besides putting your heart health at risk, sugar is also known to be one of the most significant contributors to metabolic syndrome. In fact, the recent 2015 Dietary Guidelines labeled sugar as a “nutrient of concern” and voiced recommendations for added sugars to not exceed greater than 10% of total daily calories. So, if your goal is to nip sugar in the bud and increase your HDL cholesterol levels, start by evaluating your libations. 

HDL is actually more complex than we once thought. Rather than being a single kind of particle, HDL is is now considered a family of different particles. All HDL contains lipids (fats), cholesterol and proteins (called apolipoproteins), but some types of HDL are spherical while others are shaped like a doughnut. Some HDL types remove bad cholesterol from the blood while other types are indifferent to cholesterol. Or even worse, some HDL transfers cholesterol the wrong way (into LDL and cells) or protects LDL in a way that makes it more harmful to the arteries.

Try to eat it two to four times a week. “Not only are the omega-3 fats in fish heart-healthy, but replacing red meat with fish will lower your cholesterol by reducing your exposure to saturated fats, which are abundant in red meat,” Samaan says. The catch? Some types, like shark, swordfish, and king mackerel, are high in mercury. That can increase your risk for heart disease. Instead, choose wild salmon, sardines, and bluefin tuna.

Treatment of high cholesterol usually begins with lifestyle changes geared toward bringing levels down. These include losing weight if you’re overweight, and changing your diet to emphasize vegetables and fruits, fish, particularly cold water fish such as wild Alaskan salmon, mackerel, herring and black cod that provide heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. If lifestyle changes don’t help or if you’re unable to make the changes your doctor recommends, cholesterol-lowering drugs may be prescribed. These include statins, which effectively lower LDL cholesterol; bile acid sequestrants that may be prescribed along with statins to lower LDL; nicotinic acid to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and raise HDL; drugs called fibrates that may be prescribed to lower cholesterol and may raise HDL; and a drug called Ezetimibe to lower LDL by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine.

It’s a very common misconception that cholesterol is generally bad and high levels are always cause for serious concern. But what if I told you that there is a type of cholesterol that’s not only good at higher levels, but also decreases your risk of major health issues like heart disease? I have great news: This type of cholesterol really does exist. It’s called HDL cholesterol, and it’s our “good” cholesterol.

Pasta and heart health together in one sentence seems to be an oxymoron, however with one small tweak spaghetti can become a cholesterol-busting meal. Instead of opting for white, refined noodles, choose the less-processed, vitamin-enriched counterpart: whole grain pasta. Barilla makes one that has 7 grams of fiber per serving, and — what’s more — none of the stress-fighting B-vitamins have been removed. A B vitamin known as niacin has been found to decrease LDL levels and increase HDL when taken in doses above your vitamin requirement, according to a guide to lowering your cholesterol by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Dr. Pacold notes that exercise has a greater effect on raising HDL cholesterol, which protects you from heart disease, than on lowering the LDL cholesterol that puts you at risk. It's good to know that even if you don’t see the numbers changing right away, regular exercise strengthens your heart and protects you from heart disease. If you’re not a big fan of exercise and not in great shape to begin with, remember that all you need to do to start reaping the heart-healthy benefits of exercise is 30 minutes of walking at a moderate pace every day. If you have a heart condition, talk with your doctor first about how much exertion is right for you when you begin, and then work your way up to your fitness goals for heart health.
If you’re getting worked up over high cholesterol, then start working out. Daily exercise can help raise your HDL cholesterol levels and reduce your LDL cholesterol, while protecting you from many health conditions. Begin by choosing an activity that sounds like fun to avoid “workout burn-out.” Consider jogging, brisk walking, cycling, tennis, swimming or hitting the gym. Find an exercise partner to make the activity more enjoyable and help you stay on track. And while exercise can lower your cholesterol, it can also reduce your stress and anxiety. So working up a sweat can also save you from sweating the small stuff.
Population studies have shown that low levels of HDL cholesterol—less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women—increase the overall risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) and heart attacks. A person whose HDL level is lower than 35 mg/dL has eight times the risk of CAD as someone with an HDL level of 65 mg/dL. Experts have long thought that boosting HDL levels promotes heart health. But while low HDL is a strong and well-established risk factor for heart disease, the evidence for raising HDL remains uncertain. But experts agree that taking these heart healthy steps are still worthwhile.

Grabbing a plum to snack on during the day is a sweet way to keep your cholesterol levels in check: The fruit contains anthocyanins — a.k.a. antioxidants — that help out your heart by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. According to one study, eating three or more servings of anthocyanin-rich fruit each week can lower your heart attack risk by 34 percent.


Black beans, kidney beans, lentils, oh my! All are rich in soluble fiber, which binds to cholesterol in the blood and moves it out of the body. Recent studies show eating 4.5 ounces of beans a day can reduce LDL levels by 5 percent. Try black bean burritos, or dip some veggies in hummus, which is made with chickpeas, for an afternoon snack. Or try this Caramelized Onion and White Bean Flatbread -- beans are so versatile, the possibilities are endless.
As a result of all this, doctors don’t just want you to lower your total cholesterol count; they want you to change the ratio as well, so you have more HDL and less LDL. “When we looked at the data, we found that the higher your HDL went, the lower your risk of heart attack,” says cardiologist William Castelli, M.D., former director of the Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts. An HDL level of 75 or more seems to convey extra longevity for many people, while a count of 100 or more is so beneficial that it was dubbed the “Methuselah syndrome” by one researcher. HDL less than 35 or so, meanwhile, can carry significant risk of heart disease. Genetics plays a large role in HDL. A few guys have naturally low levels and need to keep their LDL low as well to make up for it. (As Castelli puts it, you don’t need a substance that removes cholesterol from your blood if you don’t have much to begin with.) But there’s plenty that everyone else can do to pump up their HDL. Never one to shirk from a task that doesn’t involve housecleaning, I managed to find two handfuls of ways to turn my “good” numbers into great numbers.
Lose Some Weight – Those who are overweight or obese will increase their HDL cholesterol levels when they lose weight (along with experiencing a myriad of other amazing health benefits). There’s no magic diet pill you need to take to make this happen. In order to achieve weight loss, simply count your calories, restrict your carbohydrate and sugar intake, eat more vegetables and fruits, and begin exercising. Not only will you lower your LDL cholesterol, but you will also feel more energetic and happier!

When it comes to cholesterol, not all types are created equal, and it is important to understand how lifestyle choices significantly impact cardiovascular health. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as the “healthy” or “good” type of cholesterol due to the fact that it scavenges and removes the “bad” type of cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) known to clog arteries. A desirable HDL level is anything greater than 60 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

While cholesterol is normally kept in balance, an unhealthy diet high in hydrogenated fats and refined carbohydrates can disrupt this delicate balance, leading to increased cholesterol levels. This imbalance is manifested in elevated LDL (bad cholesterol) and low HDL (good cholesterol), which increases the risk of heart attack or stroke. Other causes can include physical inactivity, diabetes, stress and hypothyroidism.
A study of over 1 million US veterans showed a U-shaped relationship between HDL and total mortality, with 50mg/dL as the level associated with the lowest mortality. [7, 2] In addition, an analysis of the Framingham study demonstrated that LDL and triglyceride levels modify HDL’s predictive value; CHD risk was found to be higher when low HDL was combined with high LDL and/or triglycerides as compared with the presence of low HDL levels alone. [8, 2]  The relationship between HDL and CHD risk is also confounded by the presence of pro-atherogenic and inflammatory markers. [2]
Plain and simple, exercise raises HDL levels. “We looked at doctors and others who ran the Boston Marathon,” notes Castelli. “While the average male HDL is 45, men who ran the marathon ranged around 55.” One Georgetown University study found increased HDL in those who ran seven miles a week or took part in four moderate 30-minute sessions of any aerobic activity.

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.

×