Low HDL Cholesterol Causes – Why Is My Good Cholesterol So Low?

Low HDL Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy type of fatty substance that is found in the body. The abundance of what is found in our bodies is produced by the liver, with a small percentage (about 25%) being derived from the foods that we eat. The term cholesterol often comes with a negative implication; however, the substance is critically important to many processes that occur within the body. There is not just one type of cholesterol. Bad cholesterol (known as LDL, or low density lipoprotein) is the type that is responsible for clogging arteries and leading to heart disease when levels are high. However, there is another kind that is much less ominous, and that is HDL cholesterol. The HDL phraseology used to describe this type refers to “high density lipoprotein”, and while both are essential to many physiological processes, HDL cholesterol has a few extra tricks up its sleeve. Unlike the bad type of cholesterol, where higher levels can be problematic, having low HDL cholesterol can cause problems of its own.

HDL is often called the good cholesterol. This is because it performs a very important function within the bloodstream. A publication from the Harvard Medical School explains how HDL obtained its “good guy” label. HDL travels along the bloodstream and removes bad cholesterol from plaques along the walls of the arteries, thus preventing further clogging. Once the HDL cholesterol has removed the bad cholesterol from artery plaques, it takes it to the liver so that it can be disposed of. Because of this, good cholesterol has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, according to WebMD.

As if a reduced risk of coronary related illness is not enough motivation to try to boost up low HDL cholesterol levels, an even more alarming fact may. It is not unusual for people who have lower than normal HDL levels to also have high triglycerides, and the combination of the two can greatly increase the risk of heart disease when both are present, according to the National Institutes of Health. Triglycerides are another type of fat that is found in the blood and they are either consumed directly or converted in the body from ingested carbohydrates. The relationship between these two cholesterol numbers however, is even more interesting than it may first appear.

One common cause of high triglycerides is a diet that is high in refined carbohydrates and sugars. The body takes these carbs and turns them into triglycerides. With that being said, a clearer picture of total cholesterol can begin to emerge from this simple source. Low HDL cholesterol levels can also be caused by diets that are high in sugary foods and edibles that are highly refined, according to the Harvard Medical School. Thus, a dietary modification that reduces the amount of simple sugars being taken in can positively affect both good cholesterol and triglycerides by raising HDL and lowering the latter, as it is a very common cause.

Lifestyle in fact plays a major role in affecting the levels of HDL in the blood. Smoking cigarettes, for instance, can contribute to low HDL cholesterol levels. Physical activity also plays an important role. Those who led a sedentary lifestyle that do not get regular physical activity may find their HDL levels lower than normal. In fact, studies have shown that moderate exercise a few times a week can increase HDL cholesterol by as much as ten points. Physical activity also provides causation for low HDL levels in another way. Being overweight or obese can contribute to HDL levels being lower than desirable. Therefore, lifestyle changes in terms of adding in exercise can work to raise HDL two fold, by reducing weight that can have a negative impact, and boosting the good cholesterol levels due to the exercise itself.

WebMD further illustrates the role that fats play in HDL cholesterol levels as well, by explaining how better choices for bad fat substitutions can reduce the risk of heart disease. Diets that are high in bad fats, like saturated fats, can lead to low HDL cholesterol levels. When these are replaced with monounsaturated fats, studies have shown that not only can HDL levels be improved, but bad cholesterol levels can be reduced as well. Switching to soy in some cases, for example, can lead to an increase in HDL by 3 to 5 percent. It is clear that diet can cause low HDL totals in a variety of ways.

While many of the causes of reduced quantities of HDL are related to lifestyle and thus potentially reversible with positive and healthful changes, there is one that simply cannot be altered. Unfortunately, low HDL cholesterol levels may also be caused from genetics. This means that low levels of HDL have been passed down throughout your family, and therefore the amount that your body produces naturally may be affected. While lifestyle factors may still help to boost HDL to a certain extent, it is possible that cholesterol medications may be used for treatment in these cases.
Medications are used regularly to treat high cholesterol, and sometimes also to treat low HDL cholesterol. Aside from medications, there are many natural cholesterol lowering supplements to consider as well. The Mayo Clinic mentions several including artichoke extract, barley and fish oil as potentially useful in this application. However, these natural products are a great answer to the question of how to lower LDL cholesterol, but may have little impact on good cholesterol.

When it comes to HDL cholesterol, the causes and the solutions are often one in the same. With the exception of genetic hand me downs, many of the sources of a lackluster amount of HDL cholesterol are due to lifestyle and dietary decisions. Diets that are high in bad fats and refined sugars are often culprits. And, sedentary lifestyles combined with an abundance of extra pounds may also play a role. Health hazardous habits like smoking are also commonly linked to a lack of these lovable lipids. So, finding the source of your low HDL levels is even more beneficial, because oftentimes finding the cause also means finding the solution.