A common misconception is that cholesterol is generally bad and high levels are always a big concern. But in fact, there is a type of cholesterol that is not only good at high levels, but also reduces the risk of major health problems like heart disease. This type of cholesterol really exists. It’s called HDL cholesterol and it’s our “good” cholesterol.
So if there is cholesterol that is actually good for us, how can we naturally raise it? The short answer is lifestyle. Your lifestyle actually has the biggest impact on your HDL cholesterol levels. So, by changing daily, totally controllable habits like diet and exercise, you can improve your HDL cholesterol levels, which can lower your risk of life-threatening health problems. Let’s start improving those HDL cholesterol numbers because positive change can literally begin today!
- 1 Natural Methods to Increase HDL Cholesterol Levels
- 2 What is HDL cholesterol?
- 3 HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol
Natural Methods to Increase HDL Cholesterol Levels
Your genes play a role in determining how much HDL your body produces and the proportion of different subtypes. Your genes are obviously already decided for you and out of your control, but your lifestyle choices are in your control. Here are some of the best ways, and even some easy ways, to raise HDL cholesterol levels:
1. Don’t smoke
As always, smoking only makes health problems worse, and that includes HDL levels. Studies show that smoking has a negative effect on HDLs by lowering their levels, which further increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease. So if you smoke, you are already increasing your risk of heart problems.
2. Exercise more
To maintain a healthy body, you need to exercise daily. If you want another specific reason to start exercising or increase your frequency, it’s your HDL levels. Increased physical activity directly contributes to raising your HDL cholesterol levels. Another of the many benefits of exercise. Vigorous exercise is the best choice for increasing HDL levels, but any additional exercise is better than no exercise.
3. Decrease body weight
If you are currently overweight, losing even a few pounds can improve your HDL cholesterol. For every pound and a half of weight you lose, your HDL can increase by one milligram per deciliter. This means you want to lose weight, and if you are extremely overweight, getting your HDL cholesterol levels in order is an additional reason to treat obesity.
4. Eat healthier fats
To improve your HDL levels and overall cholesterol, you definitely need to avoid trans fats, which are commonly found in hard margarines, baked goods, and fried fast foods. Conversely, you need to consume more healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, olive oil, nuts and salmon. Healthy fats help balance LDL cholesterol by lowering it and raising HDL cholesterol, which promotes a healthier heart. In fact, a high-fat ketogenic diet may reduce the risk of markers of heart disease, including high cholesterol and triglycerides.
5. Cut Refined Carbs
A diet high in refined carbohydrates like white bread, sugar, etc. has a negative effect on your HDL levels. By reducing your intake of these types of carbohydrates, you can therefore improve your HDL levels. Opt for high-quality, healthier carbs like those found in sprouted breads and fruit.
6. Keep alcohol consumption moderate
Excessive alcohol consumption has never helped anyone’s general condition, especially not their health. If you drink alcohol, always do so in moderation. In fact, moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with higher levels of HDL cholesterol. Moderate drinking for healthy adults is one drink of alcohol per day for women of all ages and men over 65 and up to two drinks per day for the average 65 and under. Organic red wine is a smart choice, but don’t start drinking just to improve HDL levels, because excess does far more harm than good, both for cholesterol levels and your overall health.
7. Increase your niacin intake
Niacin is a B vitamin that your body uses to turn food into energy. It also contributes to the health of the digestive system, nervous system, skin, hair and eyes. Most people get enough niacin or vitamin B3 from their diet, but niacin is often taken by prescription to treat low HDL levels. Niacin supplementation can increase HDL cholesterol levels by more than 30%. Niacin can be taken in lower doses than prescribed by prescription, but supplementation can lead to unwanted niacin side effects, especially when taken in high doses.
Some of the negative results of taking niacin include flushing, an uncomfortable feeling of heat, itching or tingling in the skin. Other side effects may include gastrointestinal, muscle, and liver problems. When it comes to niacin, it’s safest to look to add it to your daily diet. Foods richest in niacin include turkey, chicken breast, peanuts, mushrooms, liver, tuna, green peas, grass-fed beef, sunflower seeds, and avocado. Try consuming more of these tasty, niacin-rich foods to naturally raise your HDL levels!
8. Think about your prescriptions
Could one of your current prescriptions be the cause of your low HDL levels? It’s possible ! Medications such as anabolic steroids, beta-blockers, benzodiazepines, and progestins can lower HDL levels. If you are taking any of these medications, talk to your doctor and see if there is anything you can do to replace your current prescription. As you now know with HDL, it’s often possible to have a positive impact on your health without having to take a dodgy pill that might help one problem but cause another.
What is HDL cholesterol?
Total cholesterol is a measure of the total amount of cholesterol in your blood, which includes HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. However, total cholesterol is mostly made up of LDL or “bad” cholesterol. High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) can cause plaque to build up in the arteries, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. LDL also increases the risk of a condition called peripheral arterial disease, which can develop when plaque buildup narrows an artery supplying blood to the legs. The good news is that the higher your HDL level, the lower your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, level.
HDLs are actually more complex than previously thought. Rather than being a single type of particle, HDL is now considered a family of different particles. All HDLs contain lipids (fats), cholesterol, and proteins (called apolipoproteins), but some types of HDL are spherical while others are doughnut-shaped. Some types of HDL remove bad cholesterol from the blood while other types are cholesterol neutral. Or even worse, some HDLs transfer cholesterol the wrong way (towards LDLs and cells) or protect LDLs in a way that makes them more harmful to the arteries.
The ideal level of HDL
The unpredictable actions of HDL are one reason why lowering LDL cholesterol is often considered the primary defense against heart disease and stroke. However, the medical world, both conventional and holistic, agrees that raising low HDL is a very smart health measure because low HDL cholesterol can be more dangerous than a high LDL cholesterol.
The ideal HDL level for both men and women is 60 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood. If a man’s HDL level is less than 40 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood or if a woman’s HDL level is less than 50 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood, it is considered to be at risk of disease, especially from heart disease, is increased. Even if your HDL level is higher than the risky level (but lower than the desirable level), you should work to raise your HDL levels to reduce your risk of heart disease.
As you already know, HDL is considered the good guy in the cholesterol game, and it can help your liver get rid of unnecessary cholesterol in your body. This is a very important job that HDLs are able to do, because cholesterol cannot simply dissolve in the blood. The liver has the job of processing cholesterol among its other important jobs. HDL is the liver’s helper, and a very good helper. A high level of HDL reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, hence the importance of controlling your cholesterol.
HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol
To simplify things for you, HDL cholesterol is the “good” cholesterol, while LDL is the “bad”.
Here’s how the two compare:
- – high density lipoprotein
- – “good” cholesterol
- – increases with a healthy diet
- – smoking lowers HDL levels
- – helps lower LDL levels and remove cholesterol from your arteries.
- – a higher level means a lower risk of serious heart problems and strokes.
- – low density lipoprotein
- – “bad” cholesterol
- – levels increase with an unhealthy diet
- – smoking increases LDL levels
- – is the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries
- – higher levels mean an increased risk of serious heart problems and strokes
- – being overweight is associated with a higher LDL level and a lower HDL level.
If you don’t know your HDL level yet, you can find out with a blood test that includes a lipid profile. This profile tells you your overall total cholesterol level as well as its different components, including HDL and LDL. There are no obvious signs or symptoms of high LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol. It is therefore very important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and have your cholesterol checked regularly!
Remember that the best ways to raise HDL cholesterol levels while lowering LDL cholesterol levels are to not smoke, exercise more, reduce body weight, eat healthier fats, reduce refined carbohydrate intake, moderate alcohol intake, increase niacin intake, and monitor prescription drug intake. If you do all of this, you’ll see your HDL levels go up and your risk of heart disease and stroke go down.
* Presse Santé strives to transmit medical knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace medical advice.