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Stop Smoking and Improve Cholesterol Profile, Lower Heart Disease Risk

Quit Smoking to Decrease Heart Disease Risk

Smoking is a risk factor for heart disease, contributing to 20% of cases. However, a new study finds that successfully quitting the habit now can improve the levels of both good and bad cholesterol thus reducing that risk.

Smoking Cessation Leads to Increase in HDL Cholesterol Levels

Lead researcher Dr. Adam Gepner of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health conducted a study of more than 1,500 smokers that were representative of the current US population, including a high proportion of overweight and obese individuals (average BMI was 29.6). The average participant smoked about 21 cigarettes per day prior to the start of the study.

The study volunteers participated in one of five smoking cessation programs for one year. Just over three hundred (36%) succeeded in quitting and those participants experienced a rise of about 5% in HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

Read: How Heart Disease Develops with Smoking

Increasing HDL levels by just 1 mg/dL can result in a 3% drop in the risk of having a cardiovascular event over 10 years.
The size of the HDL particles increased in the former smokers as well. Small HDL particle size is another risk factor for heart disease.

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The researchers noted that the effect was the same no matter how many cigarettes were smoked at the start of the study – those who smoked less experienced the same benefits as the heavier smokers.

How Smoking Affects Your Health in 5 Ways

Dr. Gepner notes that it remains unclear exactly how smoking affects cholesterol levels. Smoking affects the cardiovascular system in a number of ways, including lowered oxygen levels and increased damage to the heart. With cholesterol, he suspects changes to the proteins that control the breakdown of cholesterol.

Read: Low HDL Cholesterol Levels Linked to Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

The study did find one downside to quitting smoking – the propensity to gain weight. The group of participants who succeeding in smoking cessation gained an average of about 10 pounds compared to one or two pounds in the groups that relapsed. As a result, the researchers suspect that the benefit may have been greater had the group also maintained their weight over the course of the year.

"It is important to counsel quitters about weight gain and the need for a healthy diet and regular exercise during the quitting period," said Dr. Gepner.

SOURCE: American Heart Journal, January 2011