We eat foods higher in fat and sugar, we tend to consume less fruit and vegetables and move less. In the colder months, attention is always raised for cholesterol, which is considered a real enemy to health and which, due to a lifestyle that is less attentive to health, can inevitably increase. However, not all cholesterol is harmful. Let's start by saying that most of the cholesterol is produced by the body, the rest, about 30%, comes from food. But why does the body produce something that has always been considered an enemy?
Not all evil comes to harm, the role of cholesterol
In fact, cholesterol, within certain limits, is necessary for life. Cholesterol participates in the formation of cell membranes, is essential for the production of hormones and for cell metabolism. Even the so-called bad LDL cholesterol has its function, which is to bring cholesterol to cells and tissues for the proper functioning of the body. The problem is when this value is in excess and the cardiovascular risk increases. However, the other part of cholesterol, called good or HDL cholesterol, which is very important for assessing cardiovascular risk, is often not considered. So let's try to understand what good cholesterol is for, its benefits that, as we will see, are not limited to the heart only, and how to increase its values.
Good cholesterol, what it is for
Good HDL cholesterol plays an essential role in the reverse transport of cholesterol, namely the process by which cholesterol is removed from the peripheral vessels and carried to the liver to be then removed through the bile (Kosmas et al, Drugs Context, 2018). In short, HDL cholesterol is our scavenger. But that's not all, other beneficial properties make HDL cholesterol protective for heart health. In particular, this type of cholesterol is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, protective for the endothelium, which is the lining of blood vessels, and antithrombotic (Kosmas et al, Drugs Context, 2018). In addition, the good HDL cholesterol helps prevent the oxidation of bad LDL cholesterol, the antechamber of arteriosclerosis.
Good cholesterol and heart health
Studies have found that the higher the amount of circulating HDL cholesterol, the lower the cardiovascular risk. In particular, for every 1 mg / dL increase in good cholesterol, the cardiovascular risk is reduced by 3% in women and 2% in men (Kosmas et al, Drugs Context, 2018).
Good cholesterol and cellular degeneration
Low HDL good cholesterol values, less than 35 mg / dL, have been observed to be associated with an increased likelihood of developing cellular degeneration. On the other hand, bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides showed no impact on the risk of developing cancer (Loosen et al, J Cancer res Clin Oncol, 2021).
How to increase HDL cholesterol
Studies have observed that the inclusion in the diet of foods such as red yeast rice, bergamot, but above all artichokes and extra virgin olive oil allows to increase the values of good HDL cholesterol (Rondanelli et al, Biomed Res Int., 2016). An increase in good HDL cholesterol was also observed with the intake of omega 3 fatty acids and with a diet that follows the Mediterranean diet as much as possible (Siri Tarino et al, Curr Atheroscler Rep, 2011). Soya also proves useful in increasing HDL good cholesterol levels and lowering LDL bad cholesterol and triglyceride values at the same time (Yanai et al, J Clin Med Res, 2018). Not only that, taking supplements containing astaxanthin, an antioxidant, has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol. In particular, lower values of astaxanthin, 6 mg per day for 3 months, increased HDL cholesterol values. A higher dosage, 12 and 18 mg per day for 3 months, in addition to increasing the good cholesterol also allowed to reduce triglycerides (Yoshida et al, Atherosclerosis, 2010). In any case, always ask your doctor for advice before starting any treatment with astaxanthin, since this substance can lower blood pressure. Not to forget the role of almonds. It was observed that even small amounts, 10 grams per day, of almonds consumed before breakfast resulted in an increase in HDL cholesterol within a month and a half, but only in people with low initial levels of good cholesterol (Jamshed et al, J Nutr, 2015). Papaya proved to be another ally. In fact, these fruit is not only capable of reducing bad cholesterol and triglycerides but also increases good cholesterol (Santana et al, Nutrients, 2019). As for green tea, which is a drink with a high antioxidant power, this has been shown to reduce bad LDL cholesterol but has no effect on good HDL cholesterol (Xu et al, Nutr J, 2020).
The role of physical activity
Exercise has also been shown to be beneficial for HDL cholesterol. However, for an increase in HDL cholesterol to occur, it is necessary to exceed a certain threshold of physical exercise per week, below this threshold there is no improvement. Studies have set this threshold at 11 kilometers, 7 miles, per week distributed over several days with brisk walking or running (Kokkinos et al, Sports Med, 1999).