What does an HDL level of 40 mean? Are there symptoms associated with this HDL level?
An HDL cholesterol level of 40 mg/dL is considered low. Higher levels of HDL (>60 mg/dL) are associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and heart attack.
Low HDL cholesterol doesn’t have symptoms, which is why it’s important to know your levels. Increasing your HDL cholesterol to >60 mg/dL will likely help lower your LDL “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as your risk for developing heart disease and other health issues.
Factors that could contribute to an HDL level of 40
A variety of factors can affect HDL levels, including your diet, weight, physical activity level, and whether or not you smoke. Medications, certain diseases, as well as your age, sex, race, and genetics also impact HDL levels.
Diet: Diets that are high in saturated fats, trans fats, added sugar, and low in fiber can lower HDL levels.
Weight. Having excess fat, particularly around the abdomen, can lead to lower levels of HDL cholesterol.
Physical Activity. Being active can help raise HDL cholesterol levels and lower LDL levels.
Smoking. Smoking lowers your HDL cholesterol which can contribute to a higher level of bad cholesterol.
Medications: Some medications can lower HDL levels in some people. These include beta-blockers (a common blood pressure medicine), anabolic steroids (including testosterone), progestins (found in some birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy), and benzodiazepines (used for anxiety and insomnia).
Metabolic disease/ uncontrolled diabetes: Metabolic disease and uncontrolled diabetes can cause lower HDL levels.
Age and Sex: Women tend to have higher HDL levels than men, though levels tend to decrease after menopause.
Genetics (heredity): Family members commonly have similar cholesterol levels, suggesting your genes can raise your risk of high cholesterol. Though rare, very low HDL cholesterol levels can also be inherited. Medical conditions that severely lower HDL levels include Tangier’s disease and familial hypoalphalipoproteinemia.
Race. Hispanic Americans are more likely to have lower HDL levels, whereas Blacks/African Americans are more likely to have higher levels . However, other risk factors, such as high blood pressure, obesity, or diabetes, may outweigh the health benefit of higher HDL levels.
Alcohol: Some evidence suggests moderate alcohol consumption may increase HDL levels . For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men aged 65 and younger .
What to do if your HDL level is 40?
Consult your doctor if your HDL cholesterol level is 40 mg/dL as they will need to evaluate your total cholesterol level to determine the best course of action. With an HDL level of 40 mg/dL, your doctor may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medication if your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides are high.
In the meantime, making changes to your diet and adopting healthier habits can help increase your HDL cholesterol level. Here are some things you can do to give your HDL a boost:
Exercise for 30-60 minutes 5x/week.
Eat more fiber, particularly from beans and whole grains.
Avoid trans fats, like hydrogenated oils, and limit saturated fats.
Eat small, fatty fish at least twice a week.
Lose weight if you are overweight or obese.
Manage stress and get adequate sleep.
Medications and supplements used to improve HDL results
Medications are not typically prescribed for low HDL levels alone. This is because most cholesterol medications target “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. HDL levels can increase from drugs taken to lower LDL and triglyceride levels, however. Some of these include:
Fibrates: Help lower high triglyceride levels but may also help raise your HDL cholesterol.
Statins: Statins (including atorvastatin, simvastatin, and rosuvastatin) reduce cholesterol production in your liver and lowers blood cholesterol. Because they typically need to be taken for life, statins are only recommended if diet and lifestyle changes aren’t enough .
Niacin: Niacin is a B vitamin that can improve HDL levels and lower triglyceride levels when taken at prescription doses, although niacin therapy does not appear to reduce heart disease events, like heart attacks or strokes . It works by blocking the enzyme responsible for making cholesterol in the liver.
(Algal) omega-3: Made from certain marine algae, DHA-rich algal oil might help increase HDL cholesterol while lowering triglycerides, though it also seems to increase LDL (bad) cholesterol . If your LDL cholesterol level is elevated, talk to your doctor before starting an algal omega-3 supplement.
Turmeric: Commonly used to flavor and color curry dishes, turmeric may help increase HDL and lower pro-inflammatory markers, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides . More research is needed to determine optimal form and dosage but supplementing with 500 mg/day appears safe and potentially beneficial cholesterol.