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Raise your Good Cholesterol for Heart Health

You hear it all the time – lower your cholesterol to increase your heart health. And yes, lowering your cholesterol is an important step to decreasing your risk for heart attack and stroke. But it may be just as important to RAISE your GOOD cholesterol to maintain a healthy lifestyle and strong heart.

UAB cardiologist Vera Bittner, M.D., MSPH, says that the terms “good” and “bad” cholesterol actually refer to the particles that move cholesterol through the bloodstream. “Cholesterol contained in LDL particles contributes to hardening of the arteries and is thus often termed ‘bad’ cholesterol,” she says. “HDL particles transport cholesterol from the arteries back to the liver and thus the cholesterol contained in HDL particles is often termed ‘good’ cholesterol.”

Understanding how cholesterol affects your body is important in learning to control it. “Many studies show that people with high ‘good’ cholesterol have less coronary artery disease than people with low ‘good’ cholesterol,” Bittner says. “Some studies suggest that raising ‘good’ cholesterol with medications may help decrease heart disease.”

As with many health issues, the best ways to raise your good cholesterol are to exercise, quit smoking and to lose weight if you’re overweight or obese. Also, avoiding trans fats in the diet can help. Trans fats are made when food manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil and can be found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils.

“Some medications increase good cholesterol as well – the one that is most often used is niacin,” Bittner says.

Talk to your doctor and get a cholesterol test to see where your LDL and HDL levels are. And for more information on good and bad cholesterol, visit the American Heart Association.