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. If you would like to estimate your risk of developing coronary artery disease (CAD), stroke and cardiovascular disease (CVD), click here.
On the other hand, HDL levels greater than 60 mg/dL may actually protect people from heart disease. Indeed, when it comes to HDL levels, the higher the better. Click here to learn more about cholesterol.
How to Increase Your HDL Levels
Limiting total fat in your diet is useful not only for cholesterol control but also for weight reduction. However, there is evidence that too little fat in your diet can be dangerous. A fat-free diet can result in a deficit in the essential fatty acids – certain fatty acids that are essential to life, but that your body cannot manufacture, and ultra-low-fat diets may even result in a significant reduction in your HDL cholesterol. Click on this link for more information about a Heart-Healthy Diet.
The best advice regarding fat in the diet appears to be this: Eliminate animal and dairy fat, and substitute unprocessed vegetable fats. Such a diet will avoid the problems seen with an ultra-low-fat diet, and should help raise HDL cholesterol levels.
- 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 diet is not a trivial task. Trans fatty acids not only increase LDL, but also reduce HDL. Avoiding trans fatty acids from your diet will almost certainly increase your HDL.
- Increase the monounsaturated fats in your diet. 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 to your diet. Soluble fibers are found in oats, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and result in both a reduction in LDL cholesterol and an increase HDL cholesterol. For best results, at least two servings a day should be used.
- Other dietary means to increasing HDL. Cranberry juice has been shown to increase HDL levels. Fish and other foods 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.
Exercise. 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. There is some evidence that duration of exercise, rather than intensity, is the more important factor in raising your HDL.
Lose weight. Obesity results not only in increased LDL cholesterol, but also in reduced HDL cholesterol. If you are overweight, reducing your weight should increase your HDL levels. This is especially important if you have Metabolic Syndrome..
Stop smoking. If you smoke, giving up tobacco will result in an increase in HDL levels.
Alcohol. While one or two drinks per day (especially red wine) can increase your HDL, more can lead to substantial health problems including heart failure.
Medications that raise your HDL
Drug therapy, statins, in particular, have not been very effective at increasing your HDL.
Niacin appears to be the most effective at raising HDL levels. The amount of niacin needed for increasing HDL is so high, that it may cause flushing, itching and hot flashes.
A combination of niacin, cholestyramine, and gemfibrozil therapy has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol substantially, but can be particularly difficult to tolerate.