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How good cholesterol protects our heart

How good cholesterol protects our heart

A desirable level of HDL cholesterol is a precursor to a healthy heart. We find out why HDL has earned the badge of ‘good cholesterol’

Good cholesterol or High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is vital for our heart health as it helps in the removal of Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol from our body

Our ‘high cholesterol’ levels have often earned us a frown or reproach from our well-wishers. We have been promptly advised to curb excess fats or anything that oozes oil for the sake of our cardiac health and well-being. That’s also because the ‘C’ word here is associated with a harmful waxy substance blocking our arteries, causing damage to the heart. What is often forgotten is that there also exists good cholesterol or HDL (high-density lipoprotein) which helps lower the risk of heart disease.

Cardiac health experts reckon, out of the three different cholesterols (HDL, LDL, VLDL) and triglycerides, HDL has earned the badge of ‘good cholesterol” because of its ability to get rid of the harmful LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or ‘bad cholesterol’ from the arteries.

According to Dr Rajpal Singh, director and interventional cardiologist, Fortis Hospitals, Bannerghatta Road, Bengaluru, HDL is the protective cholesterol which acts as the ‘scavenger’ cell and protects one against the deleterious effects of high LDL cholesterol. Speaking with Happiest Health, cardiologists explain how a desirable level of HDL is always a precursor to a healthy heart and can be attained by watching what you eat and keeping yourself physically active.

To monitor our heart’s health, experts always recommend a lipid profile test which reveals the good, bad or alarming levels of cholesterol present in our system. “It is always beneficial for the heart to have higher levels of HDL as compared to LDL,” explains Bengaluru-based diabetologist Ashwitha Shruti Dass. She explains an HDL level between 40 to 60mg/dl usually indicates that our heart health is being taken care of by the good cholesterol.

According to the diabetologist, HDL is like a helpful transporter which carries away the bad cholesterol to the liver to be broken down. “This transfer prevents the plaque formation in the arteries which may otherwise cause harm because of clogging, narrowing or hardening,” she explains. The damage or blockage in the artery can stop the supply of oxygen-rich blood in the system.

HDL also consists of the goodness of antioxidants that prevent and protect LDL from getting oxidised, causing harm to the body. “Thus, the oxidisation that can cause an inflammatory response which can result in hardening of the arteries is prevented,” Dr Dass explains.

Another feature of HDL is its antithrombotic property that promotes the flow of blood and limits the process of atherosclerosis or plaque formation.

Eat healthy, exercise regularly

So, what becomes of the LDL once it is in the liver? Clinical nutritionist Ishi Khosla explains that once the LDL reaches the liver it is either recycled into VLDL or gets converted into bile acids that are secreted with bile juice into the gut. According to Khosla, cholesterol is synthesised in the liver which forms about 1,500 mg of cholesterol every day. “This amount is much more than what is already present in a day’s diet,” she explains. Khosla says while the cholesterol content of diet varies from person to person and from day to day, it is advisable to go for foods rich in ‘good cholesterol’ in the right quantity.

“Apart from a healthy diet you need to be engaged in physical activities to have good cholesterol and stay away from excessive smoking or drinking,” explains Dr Dass.

Bengaluru-based Avantika Mishra swears by a balanced diet and exercise for keeping her LDL under check and maintaining healthy levels of HDL. “I have realised that LDL never lies because whenever I have faltered in eating or skipped the gym, my blood tests show an elevated LDL,” says the 38-year-old techie. “A few months ago, instead of proper meals, I was mostly gorging on ghee-laden gajar ka halwa (carrot pudding) and snacks most evenings and sometimes for lunch. And my reports reflected high LDL,” she says.

That’s when Mishra got back to consuming healthy meals on time and started exercising under a trainer. “My latest reports show that I am back within the normal range, and I hope to follow the same diet and exercise pattern to keep it under check,” says Mishra.


Aim high but conditions apply

Dr Dass reckons while a higher level of HDL as compared to LDL is good, having an excess of HDL may not always be favourable to the heart especially if you have certain autoimmune conditions. “Some studies have also shown that if you have autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or metabolic conditions like diabetes then you are more vulnerable to heart issues. So it is advisable to keep your HDL also within the recommended levels,” she cautions.

“Also, what you need to remember is that HDL can only help you in the beginning stage of plaque formation when it is not too dense, but it can’t help you if the arteries are already clogged and narrowed,” she adds.

Dr Dass also points out that to maintain good cholesterol and heart health, it is crucial to go easy on sugars and fats and keep a check on thyroid levels. “Always remember when your sugar levels are on the higher side, the cholesterol also increases. Similarly, if your thyroid is low then the liver is unable to process the usual level of cholesterol and thus it (cholesterol) goes up,” she says.

What to eat for boosting good cholesterol

According to Dr Singh all dry fruits, barring cashew nuts are good in improving HDL cholesterol levels. “Fruits like mangoes, grapes, avocados, soya products, green tea and green leaves can increase the HDL levels and also lower the LDL levels,” he explains. For boosting good cholesterol levels, Dr Singh also recommends regular exercise, healthy eating and alcohol in moderation.

According to Bengaluru-based dietician Deepalekha Banerjee of  360 Degree Nutricare, for boosting HDL your diet should include lean meat, organ meat, sources of plant protein apart from nuts, vegetables and fruits rich in antioxidants

“Consumption of 30ml to 60 ml of red wine is fine as it is rich in antioxidants and can reduce the oxidised LDL,” explains Dr Dass.


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