September 20, 2013

 By Diane Walker, RN, MS, CSA

What’s Your HDL? Cholesterol Services & Support

When it comes to cholesterol, not all types are created equally. The numbers can be confusing and even the options for raising the good cholesterol and lowering the bad can make a normal person want to shake their head and walk away from it all. However, when you have an older adult in your care, the cholesterol dilemma hits much closer to home and tends to make you want to learn as much as possible to keep them healthy. With a little education on the subject, you can beat the cholesterol beast and make your heart — and your doctor happy.

Two Types of Cholesterol

There are two types of cholesterol. HDL is considered the “good” kind of cholesterol. HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein. This type of cholesterol actually removes the extra bad cholesterol in your blood and sends it to the liver to be broken down and removed safely from your body. Think of HDL as the sheriff of the cholesterol town that kicks the bad guys, LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, out of town before they can cause trouble.

What is a good target for HDL cholesterol levels?

Men should shoot for 60 mg/dl or above. If their HDL is below 40 mg/dl, they are at risk. For women, the goal should be the same, 60 mg/dl, and women are at risk below 50 mg/dl. If you don’t know your numbers, be sure to contact your doctor, or a local clinic that offers HDL services to gain a better understanding of where your HDL levels sit.

Risk Factors

A high HDL number is important beyond the benefits of it removing bad cholesterol from your blood stream. Low HDL is a risk factor for several diseases including heart attacks and other cardiovascular issues. Some studies now show that a low HDL is a factor in a decline in memory once you hit midlife and beyond. High LDL can also lead to strokes by creating a buildup of plaque in your arteries which will, in turn, reduce the normal flow of blood to your brain thereby causing a stroke.

Please keep in mind that like many areas of health research, women tend to be underrepresented in the effect of cholesterol studies. New federal regulations are starting to change that, but over half of all studies still do not take gender into account.

Concerns Surrounding Cholesterol Medications

While medications seem to be the answer for older adults who continue to struggle with low HDL and high LDL cholesterol numbers despite life-style changes, there are a few cautions to consider. In some individuals, statins, the go-to choice of cholesterol medications for most doctors have been found to affect memory and cause memory loss as well as being a factor in an increase in blood sugar levels that can lead to Type 2 diabetes. Users of statins should check with their primary care provider, or cholesterol support individual to determine if the benefits outweigh the risks.

Other Ways to Boost Your HDL

There are ways to boost your HDL cholesterol. Some of these may sound familiar when it comes to good health in general and should always be kept in mind when cholesterol. Support is available when needed by your primary care practitioner:

  • Diet – Consider making changes to your diet. Stay away from refined carbohydrates like white bread and keep trans fats out of the kitchen and out of your diet completely.
  • Smoking – If you are a smoker, you should quit. Beyond the health risks of smoking such as lung cancer, smoking can also hamper your HDL levels. By giving up your smoking habit, your HDL levels can increase by as much as 20% over time.
  • Exercise – Aerobic exercise – as little as thirty minutes a day five days a week – can raise your HDL up to 10%.

Talk of cholesterol is everywhere. All it comes down to is just two simple numbers. The high number that is desirable for the HDL type of cholesterol and the desirable low number for the LDL type of cholesterol. Keep those two numbers in mind, make the necessary life-style changes, talk to your doctor, and cholesterol should be one of the last things on your mind for yourself and your loved ones.