You may know that I'm not nearly as concerned about cholesterol as most doctors. Most studies now show that it's not how high your cholesterol is that matters, it's how well your body handles it. The best way to determine how well your body handles cholesterol is to look at your HDL number. HDL is the "good" cholesterol. The higher it is, the better your body handles cholesterol. So how can you get your HDL up?

Most people I talk to have tried drugs. Few of the petrochemicals work, and almost all of them have terrible side effects. Others have tried supplements, such as niacin, policosanol, and guggul.

For some people, this is a great way to improve your cholesterol. But many still struggle to raise their HDL. If you fit into that group, I've got great news for you: You can raise your HDL for less than $1 a day. And there are no side effects.

All you have to do is drink cranberry juice. A study on a group of at-risk men (i.e., men with excess abdominal fat) found that just eight ounces of cranberry juice each day improved the hard to raise HDL by 8.6%. More juice was not necessarily more effective. There were no changes in LDL or total cholesterol. But the rise in HDL cholesterol is significant. HDL is the freight train that can carry unwanted cholesterol (LDL) from your arteries back to your liver for elimination. The scientists believe that the bioflavonoids (polyphenols) in the juice were responsible for the effects.

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If you compare these results to statins, you see how important this finding is. Most statins won't raise HDL. So drug companies are rushing to find a drug that does raise HDL. Unfortunately, success is limited. In fact, Pfizer just pulled its newest drug off the market because it was killing people. I've never heard of anyone dying from cranberry juice.

Niacin, policosanol, and guggul are great supplements. But they don't work for everyone. And it still requires you to go out and buy pills rather than get what you need from food. Some of you may need to raise your HDL more than 8.6%, so these supplements are certainly great complements to a healthy diet that includes cranberry juice.

I'm not generally a fan of juice drinks unless freshly made. The heating process kills many of the nutrients. And you incur a significant sugar load from juice instead of the whole food. But evidence is mounting that certain processed juices do have benefits, especially grape and cranberry juices. Just drink them in moderation - remember, more is not better.

You can also buy cranberry extracts in capsule form. But I don't see why you would want to. This study makes it easy - eight ounces of juice is all you need. Please be sure that any cranberry product you buy is organic. You don't want to offset the positive effects with pesticides.

"Favourable impact of low-calorie cranberry juice consumption on plasma HDL-cholesterol concentrations in men," Ruel G, Pomerleau, et al, Br J Nutr., 2006; 96(2): 357-64.
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