HDL (high- density lipoprotein) cholesterol is one of the two main types of cholesterol, the other being LDL (low- density lipoprotein). The two are often referred to as good and bad cholesterol respectively; a person with a low level of HDL (less than 40 mg per deciliter) or a high level of LDL is at considerably great risk for arteriosclerosis, diabetes, and other cardiovascular diseases. This is because HDL serves as a “cleaner” for the arteries, clearing them of LDL and transporting it to the liver, where it can be processed. This article will deal with the causes, symptoms, and treatment of low HDL levels.

1) HDL Causes
Although genetics does play its part, the causes of high HDL are almost all related to one’s lifestyle. Foods that are high in trans- fatty acids, including meat and dairy products, baked goods such as cakes and cookies, tropical oils, processed foods, margarine, and fried foods, including those served in fast food restaurants, lower the levels of good cholesterol and raise the levels of bad. Conversely, foods that are high in omega- fatty acids, such as canola and olive oils and fish, raise the levels of good cholesterol and decrease the amount of the bad. Obese people are also a high risk group, especially if they have an abnormally low waste- to- hip- ratio (the healthy minimal figure is 1 for men and .8 for women).

Exercise is also an important lifestyle factor when it comes to controlling cholesterol levels. People who drink large amounts of alcohol or smoke tobacco also face diseases resulting from an imbalance of HDL and LDL.

2) Low HDL cholesterol symptoms
The symptoms of abnormally low levels of HDL are exclusively internal, and only a blood test can determine objectively if the patient is suffering from it. At first such symptoms include inflammation caused by the accumulation of LDL on the artery walls, which constricts the flow of blood through them. If left unchecked, these symptoms can escalate to internal bleeding that occurs when red and white blood cells become trapped in the arteries; and this leads eventually to atherosclerosis or a heart attack. Other organs may be affected, too: Erectile disfunction commonly accompanies cardiovascular disease.

3) Low HDL cholesterol treatment
Doctors have several methods of treating low HDL levels, depending on the severity of the patient’s condition and also on the particular organ or organs that are affected. Heart disease may have to be treated with medicine or with open heart surgery. If, however, the warning signs are present before the condition gets worse, a doctor will recommend reversing the lifestyle conditions that caused the cholesterol imbalance in the first place. This means cutting the trans- fatty acids from the diet and adding omega- fatty acids and soluble fiber, which can be gotten from at least two daily servings of fruits, vegetables, or oats; cutting down on drinking and smoking; and getting plenty of cardiovascular exercise (at least twenty to thirty minutes a day). The patient should also have a “fasting lipoprotein” test done every five years.

There are no prescription drugs that have been manufactured specifically for increasing the level of HDL, although this can be accomplished by medicines that decrease LDL. Vitamin C and niacin pills, if taken regularly, are also known to help, although a doctor’s supervision— particularly in the case of niacin— is necessary.