If you smoke, it’s time to pack it in. According to the American Heart Association, smoking reduces your HDL cholesterol levels, while increasing your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. If you’re a smoker, you need to quit. Once you stop smoking, you can significantly improve your HDL cholesterol level very quickly and start protecting your heart. And if you’re a non-smoker, you need to avoid exposure to second-hand smoke to prevent your health from going up in smoke.
advocacy AHA Call to Action CDC cholesterol Conference diet Dubai familial hypercholesterolemia FH FH Europe FH Family Cookbook FH Global Summit Genetic Testing Global Global Advocacy Global Call to Action on FH global policy Health Impact heart healthy Heart UK IAS ICD-10 Code Implementation Science International Atherosclerosis Society Living Well with FH living with FH low fat Meeting of the Americas NCD NCDs Noncommunicable Disease Oman Society of Lipid and Atherosclerosis OSLA Pioneer Award Policy Roger Williams Scientific Sessions WCC WHF WHO World Congress of Cardiology World Congress of Cardiology and Cardiovascular Health World Health Organization World Heart Federation
As defined by the US National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III guidelines, an HDL cholesterol (HDL-C) level of 60 mg/dL or greater is a negative (protective) risk factor. [3] On the other hand, a high-risk HDL-C level is described as being below 40 mg/dL. Randomized, controlled clinical trials have demonstrated that interventions to raise HDL-C levels are associated with reduced CHD events. A prospective analysis by Mora et al investigated the link between cholesterol and cardiovascular events in women and found that the baseline HDL-C level was consistently and inversely associated with incident coronary and coronary vascular disease events across a range of LDL-C values. [4]
Ivan V. Pacold, MD, a cardiology professor at Loyola University’s Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago, says that lifestyle choices matter, and “even if these changes don’t show up directly in your cholesterol numbers, they can be lowering your risk for heart disease.” So if you haven’t made the change to a heart-healthy lifestyle, here are nine ways to get started.
People on high-carb diets full of pasta, bread and sugar-even those who exercise frequently-tend to have lower HDL levels than those who eat plenty of protein and good fats along with veggies and whole grains. “Low HDL often results when people are told to get all the fat out of their diets and eat carbohydrates instead,” Willett says. A British study showed that people with high HDL levels tend to focus on slower-burning carbs, such as beans and fruit.
About 80 percent of calories in nuts come from fat, but it's healthy unsaturated fat, not the artery-clogging kind. Nuts also are high in plant sterols, substances that block the absorption of cholesterol. Given these advantages, nuts are a natural for a heart-healthy diet. About an ounce and a half to two ounces a day should do it. Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and pistachios all confer benefits. So do peanuts, although they're technically a legume and not a nut.
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.
So far, these studies have been disappointing, to say the least. The first major trial (concluded in 2006) with the first CETP inhibitor drug, torcetrapib (from Pfizer), not only failed to show a reduction in risk when HDL was increased but actually showed an increase in cardiovascular risk. Another study with another CETP inhibitor - dalcetrapib (from Roche) - was halted in May 2012 for lack of effectiveness. Both of these related drugs significantly increased HDL levels, but doing so did not result in any clinical benefit.
Total cholesterol is a measure of the total amount of cholesterol in your blood, which includes HDL, LDL and triglycerides. However, total cholesterol is mainly made up of LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Having high levels of low-density lipoprotein or LDL can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries, increasing your likelihood for heart disease and stroke. LDL also raises your risk for a condition called peripheral artery disease, which can develop when plaque buildup narrows an artery supplying blood to the legs. The good news is that the higher your HDL level, the lower your body’s LDL level or “bad” cholesterol.

If you smoke, it’s time to pack it in. According to the American Heart Association, smoking reduces your HDL cholesterol levels, while increasing your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. If you’re a smoker, you need to quit. Once you stop smoking, you can significantly improve your HDL cholesterol level very quickly and start protecting your heart. And if you’re a non-smoker, you need to avoid exposure to second-hand smoke to prevent your health from going up in smoke.
×