HDL cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, appears to scour the walls of blood vessels, cleaning out excess cholesterol. It then carries that excess cholesterol, which otherwise might have been used to make the “plaques” that cause coronary artery disease, back to the liver for processing. When doctors measure a person’s HDL cholesterol level, they could be measuring how vigorously his or her blood vessels are being “scrubbed” free of cholesterol.
HDL levels below 40 mg/dL result in an increased risk of coronary artery disease, even in people whose total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels are normal. HDL levels between 40 and 60 mg/dL are considered “normal.” However, levels greater than 60 mg/dL may actually protect people from heart disease. Indeed, for several years, doctors have known that when it comes to HDL levels, the higher the better.
8 Ways to Increase HDL Cholesterol Levels
Aerobic exercise. Many people don’t like to hear it, but regular aerobic exercise (any exercise, such as walking, jogging or bike riding, that raises your heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes at a time) may be the most effective way to increase HDL levels. Recent evidence suggests that the duration of exercise, rather than the intensity, is the more important factor in raising HDL choleserol. But any aerobic exercise helps.
Drop the Fat. Especially belly fat. Obesity results not only in increased LDL cholesterol, but also in reduced HDL cholesterol. If you are ove*rwei*ght, a reduction should increase your HDL levels. This is especially important if your excess fat is stored in your abdominal area; your weight-to-hip ratio is particularly important in determining whether you ought to concentrate on shedding some pounds.
Stop smoking. If you smoke, giving up tobacco will result in an increase in HDL levels. (This is the only advantage that smokers may have over non-smokers — it gives them something else to do that will raise their HDL.)
Cut out the trans fatty acids. Trans fatty acids are currently present in many of your favorite prepared foods; anything in which the nutrition label reads “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils” so eliminating them from the food list is not a trivial task. But trans fatty acids not only increase LDL cholesterol levels, they also reduce HDL cholesterol levels. Removing them from your food list will almost certainly result in a measurable increase in HDL levels.
Alcohol. The advantages of alcohol: one or two drinks per day can significantly increase HDL levels. More than one or two drinks per day can lead to substantial health problems including heart failure and there are individuals who will develop such problems even when limiting their alcohol intake to one or two drinks per day.
Increase the monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats such as canola oil, avocado oil, or olive oil and in the fats found in peanut butter can increase HDL cholesterol levels without increasing the total cholesterol.
Add soluble fiber. Soluble fibers are found in oats, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and result in both a reduction in LDL cholesterol and an increase in HDL cholesterol. For best results, at least two servings a day should be consumed.
Other foods for increasing HDL. Cranberry juice has been shown to increase HDL levels. Fish and other foods such as flax seed, containing omega-3 fatty acids, can also increase HDL levels. In postmenopausal women (but not, apparently, in men or pre-menopausal women) calcium supplementation can increase HDL levels.
High Atherosclerosis Risk?
If you have atherosclerosis risk factors such as:
1) Family members who have been diagnosed with peripheral or coronary artery disease,
2) Low HDL cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol or both, and, wish to prevent atherosclerosis or
3) You have been diagnosed with peripheral or coronary artery disease and want to reverse it without drugs or surgery be sure to register for my free, no obligation eCourse: Reversing Atherosclerosis