Cholesterol is widely classified into good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Good cholesterol comprises of High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and bad cholesterol is made up of Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL). HDLs help remove the LDLs which are harmful to the body, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. The normal level of HDL is 60 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL) or above, and a level below 40 mg/dL is considered as low.
Diet plays an important role in supplying the body with necessary amounts of HDL. Below are some foods to increase the HDL levels.
1. Olive Oil
Olives and olive oil are high in HDL, and reduce the inflammatory effects of LDL. Choosing extra-virgin olive oil over any other oils is a good option to start with. You could use the oil as a dressing for your salad, or include chopped olives in your sandwich or soups.
Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fatty fishes help boost your HDL levels and lower bad cholesterol. Salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, and trout contain high levels of omega-3. Including these fishes in your diet twice a week promotes health benefits. There are various supplements of fish oil available in the market, which also serve the purpose, though not as much as the fish does.
The monounsaturated fatty acids and folate present in avocados increase the levels of HDL and decrease LDL levels. The fiber in avocado also plays an important role in this. Avocado smoothie is a good option to keep yourself full for a long time. You can also include avocado slices in sandwiches, salads, and soups.
4. Red Wine
The fact that alcohol is beneficial for health is too good to be true. Red wine has the potential to enhance HDL levels in the body. This significantly reduces the chances of getting a heart disease. Moderation is key, and the usual limit suggested is 1 glass per day for women and 2 glasses per day for men.
However, it is best to discuss this with your doctor in case you have a liver disease or diabetes.
Packed with omega-3 fatty acids, nuts enhance your HDL levels and reduce the levels of LDL, keeping your blood vessels healthy. They also have high amounts of plant sterols which reduce the absorption of LDL in the body. Some of the nuts are almonds, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, and peanuts. You can munch on nuts as a snack or include them in salads and soups.
These plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids regulate the levels of HDL in the body. Flaxseeds as a whole are not broken down by our digestive system, and so the nutrients are not absorbed. The best form to consume it is as powder or as oil. You can add flaxseed oil to salads, and sprinkle the powder on baked foods, cereals, oats, and salads.
7. Beans And Legumes
Lentils, black-eyed peas, black beans, and kidney beans are loaded with fiber and folate. While fiber helps in the absorption of good cholesterol, folate reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Lentils can be best consumed as soups, and beans as a side dish.
8. Fruits Rich In Fiber
Apples, pears, and prunes have high amounts of fiber which enhance the HDL levels. Eating them as is retains the high fiber content and has greater benefits. You could also make a smoothie, or include them as toppings on your cereals.
A vegetarian alternative to meat, soy reduces LDL levels in your body. Studies also show that consumption of soy has led to decreased consumption of meat in many people. Soy chunks can be soaked and added to your side dishes. Slices of tofu can be used to replace the cheese slices in your sandwich.
10. Dark Chocolate
Eating dark chocolate increases good cholesterol levels in the body. Research indicates that eating 0.5 oz of dark chocolate every day increases good cholesterol levels by 9%. You don’t need tips on how to eat chocolates, do you?
11. Whole Grains
Whole-grain bread, oatmeal, brown rice, and other whole grains are the best sources of soluble fiber and boost the levels of HDL in the body. Including 2 servings of whole grains or their unprocessed byproducts are recommended.
While food stands as the core to boosting HDL levels and lowering LDL, other important factors like exercise, genetics, and metabolism also impact cholesterol levels. A healthy lifestyle accompanied by yearly check-up of your cholesterol levels help manage your health effectively.
Jeffrey S. Lander, MD, is a board-certified cardiologist and the President and Governor of the American College of Cardiology, New Jersey chapter.
Having untreated high levels of LDL cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol, can place you at risk of developing heart disease. The good news is that, unlike other risk factors, you may be able to prevent high LDL levels or lower your LDL levels if they are already high.
Although many cholesterol medications can lower LDL levels to varying degrees, your healthcare provider may want to use therapeutic lifestyle changes (TLC) to see how low your LDL can go before putting you on medication.
Whether you want to lower your LDL or prevent it from increasing, following a few tips can help you keep it within a healthy range.
Diet and Weight Loss
Being overweight or obese not only places you at risk for developing high LDL levels, it can also contribute to heart disease and other chronic medical conditions. Research hints that losing even a small amount of weight may help lower your LDL levels.
Although studies have shown that losing weight helps lower LDL, they’ve also shown that eating the right types of foods can help your heart health. Foods high in soluble fiber and phytosterols, and healthy fats like olive oil, have been found to help lower LDL cholesterol.
In “Your Guide to Lowering Cholesterol With TLC,” the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute notes that it’s possible to reduce your LDL by between 20% and 30% with a few simple changes in diet:
- Allowing less than 7% of calories to be from saturated fats can reduce LDL by 8-10%.
- Decreasing daily cholesterol intake to less than 200mg can lower LDL by between 5% and 8%.
- Losing 10 pounds can reduce your LDL by between 5% and 8%.
- Adding 5 grams to 10 grams of soluble fiber a day can decrease LDL by between 3% and 5%.
- Adding 2 daily grams of plant sterols can reduce LDL by beween 5% and 15%.
More long-term studies are needed in order to determine whether it’s the actual weight loss or the diet and exercise that go along with it that causes the reduction in LDL levels.
It’s possible for LDL cholesterol to eventually return to original levels, even when you lose weight loss and maintain it. Nonetheless, the benefits make weight maintenance and good nutrition worthy goals to have.
Increase Physical Activity
Exercise is not only good for losing weight, but moderate amounts of it may also help lower your cholesterol levels—especially your LDL cholesterol.
Aerobic exercises, such as running, cycling, jogging, and swimming, appear to benefit cholesterol the most by lowering LDL and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to studies.
Other forms of exercise, such as yoga, walking, and weight-bearing exercises, have also been shown to modestly decrease LDL levels. Though they have not been studied to the extent of aerobic exercise.
Smoking cessation not only has a large impact on levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, it can also slightly lower LDL levels.
Cigarette smoking is linked to higher cholesterol levels as well as the formation of a damaging form of LDL called oxidized LDL, which contributes to atherosclerosis.
Research has shown that cholesterol levels will decrease as soon as you stop smoking. With each month after quitting, LDL levels continue to lower, even partially reversing the effects of smoking on cholesterol after just 90 days.
Alcohol and LDL Levels
Although moderate consumption of alcohol can significantly raise HDL levels, it can also lower LDL, according to studies. Moderate consumption means one serving a day for women and one to two servings per day for men. (A serving is 12 ounces of beer or 5 ounces of wine.)
However, drinking more alcohol doesn’t necessarily equal better results in terms of improving your heart health. Studies have also indicated that drinking more than three alcoholic drinks a day could actually increase your chances of heart disease.
A Word From Verywell
With a few simple lifestyle changes, your LDL cholesterol levels can become lower.
Depending on your current cholesterol levels, however, these steps may not be enough. While it is good to make these changes because they will impact your overall health, be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding other ways to treat high cholesterol.
Use our Doctor Discussion Guide below to help you start that conversation about the right treatment for you.
Cholesterol Doctor Discussion Guide
Get our printable guide for your next doctor’s appointment to help you ask the right questions.
Cholesterol: The good and the bad
Two types of lipoproteins carry cholesterol to and from cells. One is low-density lipoprotein, or LDL. The other is high-density lipoprotein, or HDL. A test measures the amount of each type of cholesterol in your blood.
LDL (bad) cholesterol
LDL cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol, because it contributes to fatty buildups in arteries (atherosclerosis). This narrows the arteries and increases the risk for heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease (PAD).
HDL (good) cholesterol
HDL cholesterol can be thought of as the “good” cholesterol because a healthy level may protect against heart attack and stroke.
HDL carries LDL (bad) cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where the LDL is broken down and passed from the body. But HDL cholesterol doesn’t completely eliminate LDL cholesterol. Only one-third to one-fourth of blood cholesterol is carried by HDL.
Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. They store excess energy from your diet.
A high triglyceride level combined with high LDL (bad) cholesterol or low HDL (good) cholesterol is linked with fatty buildups within the artery walls, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Written by American Heart Association editorial staff and reviewed by science and medicine advisers. See our editorial policies and staff.
Last Reviewed: Nov 6, 2020
What Your Cholesterol Levels Mean
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Cholesterol is naturally produced by your body and is essential to its function throughout your everyday life. However, excessively high levels of cholesterol—in particular, LDL cholesterol— are bad and can lead to serious health problems such as clogged arteries, heart disease, and stroke.
What is LDL Cholesterol?
LDL stands for Low-Density Lipoproteins. This type of cholesterol is produced by the liver and is instrumental in the creation of cell walls, hormones, and digestive juices. However, when your LDL level is high, it can start to form a plaque-like substance on the walls of your cardiovascular system, blocking the natural flow of blood and leaving you at severe risk for heart attack and stroke. Put simply, LDL is the bad kind of cholesterol. But fear not – there are several ways in which you can lower your LDL cholesterol and encourage the development of High-Density Lipoproteins (good cholesterol), which actually function to limit the level of LDL cholesterol in your system.
Consider Screening for Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH)?
Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a genetic disorder that causes dangerously high levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol from birth. If you have a family history of heart disease and very high cholesterol, you may have FH. FH can be diagnosed with a simple blood test, or lipid panel. Learn more here.
Altering your diet is the easiest way to lower your elevated LDL cholesterol, and should be your first course of action, as every cholesterol-lowering strategy starts with your dietary habits. A balanced diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and various plants will significantly help you lower your LDL cholesterol level. It’s best to limit the amount of red meat, eggs, and dairy you consume. Plant-based diets not only help lower your LDL, but they can also help clear plaque buildup from your arteries.
Starting a simple exercise routine is another way to help lower your elevated LDL cholesterol level. And if you compound working out with the dietary tips listed above, you could potentially lower your LDL level by over 37 percent and increase your HDL cholesterol by over 5 percent in just two months. Not to mention the added benefits of losing weight, decreased stress, and higher energy, exercising is an all-around great activity to incorporate into your life. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity, four to five times each week, and you’ll be well on your way.
While diet and exercise should be your two main options for fighting off LDL cholesterol, you can also look into the various dietary supplements that are on the market today. Consider omega-3 fish oils, artichoke extract, and green tea extract. Keep in mind that these natural products have not been fully proven to reduce your level of LDL cholesterol, but they may be able to help along the way.
Everyone’s body is different, and it may take a little bit of time to determine what cholesterol-lowering methods work best for you. Whatever program you decide on, stick with it and you’ll be on the right path to a healthier you!
Check out more Diet & Lifestyle Tips for a healthier life.
About the Author
Sam S. Gidding, MD is the Chief Medical Officer of the FH Foundation. Dr. Gidding is known for founding PEDAL, a consortium dedicated to prevention of adult onset lipid related diseases beginning in youth. He is a member of the ACC/AHA task force on clinical practice guidelines and has participated in the development of new adult and pediatric blood pressure guidelines. He has previously worked on guidelines/scientific statements on familial hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, tobacco, obesity, nutrition, diabetes, and congenital heart disease for AHA, AAP, NHLBI, WHO, CDC, EAS, NLA, and ADA. Dr. Gidding has been a visiting professor at the Cleveland Clinic, University of Miami, University of Pittsburg, University of West Virginia, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Texas A and M University, Brown University, the University of Hawaii, Montefiore Hospital, and the University of Michigan and lectured internationally.
The overall message on “bad” LDL cholesterol is much the same as it has been: Lower is better and how low your level should be depends on your cardiovascular risk factors.
But the standard for what low LDL means keeps on getting lower. While an LDL level under 70 is still the usual goal for people at the highest risk for cardiovascular disease perhaps that is still too high.
The main impetus for the “lower is better” mantra got started more than 10 years ago based on studies of the statin drugs such as atorvastatin (Lipitor) and simvastatin (Zocor). The studies involved only people with heart disease, so the lessons learned don’t directly apply to everyone, but there are certainly enough people with heart disease to make them important.
Two findings from the older studies stood out. First, if LDL levels are pushed down to 60 or so with statins, the risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular events falls further than if LDL levels are pushed down to just 90 or so. How much further varied with the study, but it was enough to matter. Second, although statins have side effects, overall the benefits for high risk people greatly outweigh the risks.
You can try to lower your cholesterol levels by changing what you eat, but studies have shown that the average person achieves only modest reductions (4%-13%) through dietary changes alone. Standard doses of statins reliably lower LDL levels by 30%-40%, so as a practical matter the vast majority of people who need to significantly cut their LDL levels need to take a statin.
Over the past 20 years as new evidence about LDL rolls in, experts have been pushing their recommendations about the “ideal” LDL level lower and lower.
We’re not there yet, but perhaps someday there will be a consensus that nearly everyone should make aggressive attempts to lower their LDL cholesterol with statins. If the overall LDL recommendation were to become 50-70, taking a statin may become part of the daily health routine.
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
If you have high cholesterol, youвЂ™re also at higher risk for heart disease. But the good news is, itвЂ™s a risk you can control. You can lower your вЂњbadвЂќ LDL cholesterol and raise your вЂњgoodвЂќ HDL cholesterol. You just have to make some simple changes.
вЂњI tell patients that you have to start somewhere and just keep going,вЂќ says Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, an attending cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. вЂњAs you adopt lifestyle changes, everything starts shifting, and the improvements you see at 6 weeks often increase by 3 months.вЂќ
You still may need to take medicine to get your cholesterol back on track. But if you make just a few, small changes, you might be able to lower your dose and chance of side effects.
Follow these tips to cut your cholesterol and get back on the road to good health.
Ban Trans Fats
вЂњThey raise your LDL, lower your HDL, and increase your risk of developing heart disease and stroke,вЂќ Steinbaum says. But itвЂ™s hard to avoid them. TheyвЂ™re found in fried foods, baked goods (cakes, pie crusts, frozen pizza, and cookies), and stick margarines.
ThatвЂ™s why the FDA is taking steps to remove them from the food supply. How can you avoid them in the meantime? When you go shopping, read the labels. But be careful if you see вЂњpartially hydrogenated oilвЂќ on the package. ThatвЂ™s just a fancy name for trans fat.
You donвЂ™t have to lose a lot of weight to lower your cholesterol. If youвЂ™re overweight, drop just 10 pounds and youвЂ™ll cut your LDL by up to 8%. But to really keep off the pounds, youвЂ™ll have to do it over time. A reasonable and safe goal is 1 to 2 pounds a week. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute notes that while inactive, overweight women usually need 1,000 to 1,200 calories daily for weight loss, active, overweight women and women weighing more than 164 pounds usually require 1,200 to 1,600 calories each day. If youвЂ™re extremely active during your weight-loss program, you may require additional calories to avoid hunger.
вЂњExercising at least 2 1/2 hours a week is enough to raise HDL and improve LDL and triglycerides,вЂќ says Sarah Samaan, MD, a cardiologist in Plano, TX. If you havenвЂ™t been active, start slowly — even 10-minute blocks of activity count. Choose an exercise you enjoy. And buddy up: An exercise partner can help keep you on track.
Fill Up on Fiber
Foods like oatmeal, apples, prunes, and beans are high in soluble fiber, which keeps your body from absorbing cholesterol. Research shows that people who ate 5 to 10 more grams of it each day saw a drop in their LDL. Eating more fiber also makes you feel full, so you wonвЂ™t crave snacks as much. But beware: Too much fiber at one time can cause abdominal cramps or bloating. Increase your intake slowly.
Try to eat it two to four times a week. вЂњNot 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,вЂќ 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.
Opt for Olive Oil
вЂњSubstituting olive oil for butter may reduce LDL cholesterol by as much as 15%, which is similar to the effect of a low dose of medication,вЂќ Samaan says. The вЂњgoodвЂќ fats in olive oil benefit your heart. Choose extra-virgin olive oil. ItвЂ™s less processed and contains more antioxidants, which help prevent disease.
Most types can lower LDL. The reason: They contain sterols, which, like fiber, keep the body from absorbing cholesterol, Steinbaum says. Just donвЂ™t go overboard: Nuts are high in calories (an ounce of almonds packs 164!).
Did you know that when youвЂ™re stressed, your cholesterol can go through the roof? Relax. Get lost in a good book, meet a friend for coffee, or take to your yoga mat. ItвЂ™ll help keep your cholesterol in check.
Spice It Up
If you donвЂ™t already dust your cappuccino with cinnamon or shake pepper on your pasta, listen up: Spices like garlic, curcumin, ginger, black pepper, coriander, and cinnamon do more than flavor your food, they can also improve cholesterol. Research shows that eating a half to one clove of garlic each day could lower cholesterol up to 9%. Bonus: Adding extra seasoning to your food also reduces your appetite, so itвЂ™s easier to drop excess pounds, Steinbaum says.
вЂњSmoking can raise LDL and lower HDL, and quitting often improves those numbers,вЂќ Samaan says. In one study, people who stopped smoking saw their вЂњgoodвЂќ cholesterol rise 5% in one year. But if youвЂ™re regularly around smokers, take heed: Breathing secondhand smoke every day can also raise levels of bad cholesterol.
Laughter is like medicine: It increases HDL, Steinbaum says. Need to add some comic relief to your life? Check out silly pet videos online, sign up for a joke-a-day email, or watch funny movies.
Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, attending cardiologist and director of women’s heart health, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York.
American Heart Association: вЂњHumor helps your heart? How?вЂќ
FDA Consumer Updates: вЂњFDA Cuts Trans Fat in Processed Foods.вЂќ
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: вЂњYour Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol With TLC.вЂќ
Plante, T. American Journal of Health Behavior, published online March-April 2011.
Sarah Samaan, MD, cardiologist; author, Best Practices for a Healthy Heart.
Vasanthi, H. Current Cardiology Reviews, November 2010.
USDA National Nutrient Database.
Gepner, A. American Heart Journal, published online January 2011.
Those wondering how to lower LDL cholesterol are not alone. Millions of people struggle with higher than normal LDL (low density lipoprotein) numbers, high triglycerides and often, low HDL (high density lipoprotein or, вЂњgood cholesterolвЂќ) numbers. In terms of methods to lower cholesterol fast, medications are almost always the first course of action. Drugs like statins and non-statins are the go to treatment to lower cholesterol fast in people who suffer from elevated levels of LDL. But, while the effects of these high cholesterol medications cannot be debated, a percentage of people (up to 25% percent of them) give them up months following the onset of treatment. This may be because they are simply looking for another answer to how to lower LDl cholesterol, or it could be because of the side effects associated with cholesterol medications, such as frequent muscle spasms.
But, when medications become impractical, LDL cholesterol still needs to be lowered. This is because elevated levels can dramatically increase the risk for coronary disease. LDL cholesterol is a precursor to atherosclerosis, and causes its internal destruction by affixing itself to the walls of the blood vessels, according to WebMD. Sometimes, this process can start as early as childhood. Sometimes, our own bodies help this process along, making figuring out how to lower LDL cholesterol even more important. WebMD explains that our own white blood cells may begin the process of building arterial plaques within the body. When our white blood cells try to protect blood vessels by eating LDL cholesterol, a reaction occurs that renders the LDL into a much more ominous and toxic form. Other white blood cells respond and head to the area, which can create inflammation. In this volatile area of the vessel, more LDL cholesterol can accumulate, along with cells which can lead to the formation of a plaque. In turn, this plaque grows and can lead to arterial blockages.
Thankfully, aside from medications, there are ways to lower cholesterol naturally to help slow the progression of bad cholesterol mayhem within the body and reduce the overall risk of heart related diseases later in life. Practical approaches can be used alongside medications as well, adding extra oomph to achieving the goal of how to lower LDL cholesterol. We compiled seven common sense and easy to apply approaches that can help you figure out how reduce cholesterol naturally by changing your diet, lifestyle and habits. However, always remember that elevated LDL cholesterol levels require monitoring by a health care provider. And, any changes to diet, activity level or the consideration of supplements should be discussed with him or her before proceeding especially if medications are being used, to reduce the risk of serious drug interactions.
1. Gobble up Grapefruit: It is so simple, it is so delicious. There are a great many foods that can help to drop LDL levels, but grapefruit is a very impressive option for numerous reasons. Aside from its ability to potentially reduce LDL cholesterol by up to ten percent, it can also reduce blood pressure by as many as five points. Those arterial clogs we discussed above? Grapefruit can help with those two, as studies have shown that the fruit can reduce the amount of blockages in the arteries by up to 46%.
2. Expect to Exercise: One simply cannot expect to see a marked reduction in bad cholesterol levels without getting up and moving around a little. In fact, rapid results have been obtained by individuals who exercised regularly over a 12 week period, with their LDL cholesterol numbers dropping, HDL numbers increasing and triglycerides decreasing too. An unintended bonus to exercising? It can lead to weight loss which can also reduce the risk of coronary illnesses.
3. Put Down the Cancer Stick: Wondering how to lower LDL cholesterol while puffing away on a cigarette? It is time to put it down. Smoking can contribute to cholesterol levels negatively and may also make adding in physical activity more difficult. The positive effects of quitting smoking can be noticeable in as little as 24 hours after taking your last hit. Over time, the body can repair itself in numerous ways, including yielding positive effects on cholesterol levels.
4. Filter Your Fats: Diet plays an important role in cholesterol maintenance (and, we will get to that topic later in our list). However, specific to diet and intake is the role fats play in raising LDL levels. Trans fats, for instance, can almost instantly raise the level of LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream (and, they also decrease HDL levels too). Trans-fats can be easily identified on packaging by looking for the words вЂњhydrogenatedвЂќ or, вЂњpartially hydrogenatedвЂќ on the label. Not only is skipping trans-fats an answer to how to lower LDL cholesterol, it is also an important way to keep a high LDL number from getting worse.
5. Select The Right Supplement: There are many supplements that are purported to rapidly reduce LDL levels. Unfortunately, since testing and regulation of supplements is so different from medications, there is little evidence or research available to help consumers figure out which ones are and are not effective. Promising supplements like artichoke extract and barley extract may in fact be effective but, also may not be. While this may be disappointing for those trying to figure out how to lower LDL cholesterol, it may be worthwhile to know that there are some supplements that have shown promise in their effectiveness in the reduction of LDL, such as plant sterols supplements.
6. Do Not Skip Meals: Wondering how to lower LDL cholesterol fast when you are taking all the right steps and do not seem to be getting anywhere? It may have to do with how often you are eating. Prevention.com explains that several small meals each day as opposed to one or two large ones yielded a 5 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol in a recent study.
7. Defer to Your Diet: The single most common, easy and effective way to manage high cholesterol is likely dietary changes. While we have discussed some of them here, there are many more to consider for the maintenance of high cholesterol. Adding in common sense items like almonds and oatmeal are well known. However, other foods are becoming more predominant in cholesterol maintenance, like decadent dark chocolate, cranberry juice, and leafy greens like spinach. Even tomatoes and avocados have a place among foods that fight high cholesterol and they should be added in to diets to lower cholesterol for their healthful benefits.
Jeffrey S. Lander, MD, is a board-certified cardiologist and the President and Governor of the American College of Cardiology, New Jersey chapter.
Having high LDL cholesterol, otherwise known as “bad” cholesterol, is not good for your heart health. However, more studies are now finding that it isn’t only the quantity of LDL circulating in your blood—it’s the quality, too. The type of LDL in your body may influence your risk of having heart disease down the road. Small, dense LDL is a type of LDL cholesterol that is considered to be an emerging risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It is smaller and heavier than typical LDL cholesterol and can increase your risk of developing atherosclerosis. It is thought that small, dense LDL contributes to atherosclerosis because it is small enough to penetrate the walls of arteries, is more susceptible to being oxidized, and stays in the bloodstream longer.
Anyone, ranging from young adults to the elderly, can be at risk of developing small, dense LDL particles. It appears that the development of small, dense LDL can be inherited. Additionally, lifestyle can also play an important role in the formation of small, dense LDL.
People at risk of developing small, dense LDL in the blood include:
- Individuals who consume a high amount of carbohydrates in their diet , especially refined sugars.
- Those that consume trans fats in their diet.
- Anyone who has uncontrolled diabetes.
- Individuals who have been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.
Small, dense LDL is not routinely measured in a cholesterol test that you would get in your healthcare provider’s office. However, there are tests that can measure small, dense LDL, which include:
- VAP cholesterol test
- LDL gradient gel electrophoresis
- NMR Lipoprofile test
These tests can be fairly expensive and are not available at all medical facilities.
Although high levels of small, dense LDL can increase your risk of heart disease, its ability to cause heart disease independently of other factors (such as diabetes and high trans fat intake) has not been fully established.
Routine testing for small, dense LDL is not currently being recommended.
Reducing the Formation of Small, Dense LDL
You can do some things to reduce the formation of small, dense LDL in the blood. Although you cannot do much if you have inherited raised small, dense LDL, you can make some changes to your lifestyle to lower your chances of developing this particle. Ways you can lower your risk of small, dense LDL cholesterol formation include: