Posted: 11/11/2012 9:59 am EST
New research shows that probiotics -- live microorganisms in foods like yogurt that are known to be good for digestive health -- could also do the heart some good. Taking two doses a day of a kind of probiotic seemed to decrease levels of total and "bad" cholesterol in people with high cholesterol, according to the study. The probiotic used in the study was a specially formulated form of Lactobacillus reuteri NCIMB 30242, which has been shown in past research to have positive effects on cholesterol. The study included 127 adults who had high cholesterol. Half were given two doses a day of the probiotic, while the other half were given a placebo for nine weeks. By the end of the study period, people who took the probiotics had 11.6 percent lower levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol than those who took the placebo, as well as 9.1 percent lower levels of total cholesterol. However, the probiotics group experienced no decreases in "good" HDL cholesterol levels. The following 8 lifestyle changes are also important to incorporate to keep healthy cholesterol levels:
8 Ways to Increase HDL Cholesterol
1. Orange Juice. Drinking three cups of orange juice a day increased HDL levels by 21% over three weeks, according to a small British study (at 330 calories, that's quite a nutritional commitment). This study could be highlighting an effect from high-antioxidant fruits and vegetables. Stay tuned in the years to come.
2. Glycemic Load. The glycemic load is basically a ranking of how much a standard serving of a particular food raises your blood sugar. And as the glycemic load in your diet goes up, HDL cholesterol appears to go down, according to a small recent study. Along these lines, the NCEP report recommends that most of our carbohydrate intake come from whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and fat-free and low-fat dairy products. These foods tend to be on the lower end of the glycemic scale.
3. Choosing Better Fats. Replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats can not only help reduce levels of "bad" cholesterol, it may also increase levels of "good" cholesterol, according to the Food & Fitness Advisor newsletter from Cornell University's Center for Women's Healthcare.
4. Soy. When substituted for animal-based products, soy foods may have heart health benefits. Soy products are low in saturated fats and high in unsaturated fats. Soy products are also high in fiber. An analysis found that soy protein, plus the isoflavones found in soy "raised HDL levels 3%, which could reduce coronary heart disease risk about 5%," says Mark Messina, PhD, a nationally known soy expert. Messina notes that soy also may lead to a small reduction in LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (another type of blood fat), and a possible enhancement in blood vessel function. Other studies have shown a decrease in LDL cholesterol (about 3%) and triglycerides (about 6%) with about three servings of soy a day. That adds up to 1 pound of tofu, or three soy shakes. Further research should focus on whether a higher soy diet intervention is associated with a reduction in heart disease risk.
5. Alcohol in Moderation. Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol is associated with a higher level of HDL. Alcohol is also associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women.
6. Aerobic exercise. Moderately intense exercise of at least 30 minutes on most days of the week is the exercise prescription that can help raise your HDL, according to many health care professionals.
7. Stopping smoking. Experts agree that kicking the habit can increase your HDL numbers a bit, too.
8. Losing weight. Being overweight or obese contributes to low HDL cholesterol levels, and is listed as one of the causes of low HDL, according to the NCEP.