No one talks about HDL cholesterol, but it matters -- more than we thought

No one talks about HDL cholesterol, but it matters -- more than we thought

Here at Step One Foods, we spend a fair bit of time talking about LDL, the "bad" cholesterol. But today we're going to spend some time on HDL, the "good" cholesterol. It turns out, your HDL level may say a lot more about your general health than previously thought.

As a point of reference, while you want your bad LDL cholesterol number to be as low as possible, the goal for good HDL cholesterol is to be as high as possible. HDL levels should be higher than 40 mg/dL in men and more than 50 mg/dL for women.

A recent study from the University of Toronto examined data from more 600,000 adults and revealed the significance of low HDL. While high LDL cholesterol is a specific marker of heart risk, it turns out that low HDL cholesterol level is more of a marker of poor health in general.

Patients with low HDLs are more likely to have unhealthy lifestyles, higher triglyceride levels and other chronic health issues. And lower HDL levels are not only associated with higher risk of heart disease; they are also associated with higher risk of cancer and other diseases that lead to mortality.

Traditionally, low HDL levels have been treated with statins or fish oil supplements or niacin. While the goal is to raise HDL, none of these work particularly well.

Making cholesterol numbers look good is not the same as improving health. If low HDL is a marker of poor health, simply making the number look better with a medication – without addressing the underlying driver of the HDL level – is not a real solution.

In our firefighter program we raised HDL, on average, by 6 points by improving the food the firefighters were consuming. A 6 point increase in HDL translates to an 18% reduction in cardiovascular risk. In other words, we addressed the driver of disease and actually improved health.

We had the privilege of presenting these results at the American College of Lifestyle Medicine conference last year and to the Congressional Wellness Caucus in D.C.

So as you approach your own health, remember that numbers are important but the underlying fundamentals are much more so. Get the fundamentals right, and the numbers will follow.

Step One was created to help you address the fundamentals. We’re here to make getting healthy easy and enjoyable.

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