What Causes Low HDL Cholesterol Levels?


While low triglyceride levels and low-density lipoprotein ( LDL) cholesterol can have a positive effect on your heart health, low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol can make a difference for you. This is because HDL is considered "good cholesterol."

HDL plays an interesting role in that it actually removes LDL cholesterol (your "bad" cholesterol) from the walls of your arteries. This can protect your arteries from blockages and conditions like a heart attack or stroke .

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In fact, research has shown that low HDL levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. This is especially true if other lipids, such as LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, are also high in the blood. Also, research shows that, to some extent, high HDL levels are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease .

It is important to understand that no direct causal relationship has been found between HDL levels and a heart attack or stroke; this suggests that other factors are at play and that a person's HDL level is one piece of the puzzle .

Optimal HDL levels

Optimal HDL levels differ for women and men. The optimal value is considered to be more than 40 milligrams per deciliter (mg / dL) for men and more than 50 mg / dL for women. However, healthcare providers pay less attention to the actual "amount" of HDL and more to a person's overall heart health and how their individual HDL levels fit into this picture.

An example would be someone who is overweight, smokes, and has low HDL levels on routine blood tests. Rather than prescribing medications to raise HDL levels to a "normal" number, the healthcare provider will focus on counseling on quitting smoking, exercising, and losing weight. All of these measures can effectively increase PAP.

In fact, you might be surprised to learn that there is no strong scientific evidence to support the use of drugs to increase HDL levels in humans.

Causes of low HDL levels

There are a number of conditions and lifestyles that influence the reduction of HDL levels. While this may not be a factor for you, consider these issues and talk to your doctor:

  • Overweight :   Being overweight can cause a number of health problems, including low HDL cholesterol levels. If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can increase these levels and lower your risk of heart disease.
  • Genetic factors :   Sometimes very low HDL cholesterol levels can be inherited. Diseases that severely lower HDL levels include Tangier disease and familial hypoalphalipoproteinemia.
  • Bad nutrition :   What you eat can also affect your HDL levels. Limit saturated fats (such as butter, cream, whole or 2% milk, beef, pork, chicken with skin) and replace them with monounsaturated fats found in olives and avocados and polyunsaturated fats found in Fatty fish can increase your HDL level .
  • Sedentary lifestyle :   Adding moderate exercise to your daily routine can raise your HDL levels slightly. The American Heart Association recommends doing 40 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, three to four times a week, such as swimming, brisk walking, running, cycling, and dancing.
  • Smoking : Chemicals in cigarettes can lower HDL cholesterol levels. Quitting smoking can help raise HDL levels and prevent other chronic diseases, including heart disease.
  • Uncontrolled diabetes :   High blood glucose levels can help lower HDL cholesterol levels. It can also raise triglyceride and LDL levels. Controlling your blood sugar level can help bring your HDL levels back into the normal range. This can be done by making lifestyle changes or taking medication for treatment.

Cholesterol Discussion Guide for Healthcare Professionals

Get our printed guide to your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Frequently asked questions

How is cholesterol controlled?

Cholesterol levels are monitored by a test called a lipid profile, which requires a blood test. Lipid profiles measure HDL, LDL, and triglyceride levels. You may need to fast for eight to 12 hours before taking your blood sample to get an accurate result.

How often should my cholesterol levels be checked?

Healthy adults should have a lipid profile test every four to six years, but anyone with a pre-existing medical condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, or a family history of high cholesterol, should get tested more often. In children and young adults, a baseline lipid profile should be established between the ages of 9 and 11, and again between the ages of 17 and 21.

Get the word of drug information

Your HDL is important, but your healthcare provider will likely pay less attention to the exact amount and more to the value. They will interpret your HDL levels in the context of your heart disease risk factors, such as family history, weight, activity level, if you smoke, or have other medical conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

If your healthcare provider tells you that you have low HDL cholesterol, try not to get angry. Instead, focus on being healthier, whether it's losing weight, being overweight or obese, quitting smoking, or going for a run .

If you need help achieving those goals in life, it's no big deal. Talk to your healthcare provider; this could be a good time to visit a dietitian or even start a weight loss program.

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