Home > Health Library > High Cholesterol: Raising Your HDL Level
Not all cholesterol is bad. HDL is called "good cholesterol" because it helps keep "bad" LDL cholesterol from building up in your arteries. High levels of HDL (60 or above) are linked with a lower risk of heart attack and stroke.
You can raise your HDL levels by:
Cholesterol is a type of fat in your blood. Your body needs it for many things, such as making new cells. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs. But you can also get cholesterol from some of the foods you eat.
HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, is the good kind of cholesterol. It is made mostly of protein and a small amount of fat. HDL helps move cholesterol out of your body. High levels are linked with a lower risk of heart attack and stroke.
Having low levels of HDL can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Your HDL level should be at least 40 (measured in milligrams per deciliter, or mg/dL), but higher is better.
Low HDL usually is caused by a poor diet and a lack of exercise. You may raise your HDL level and lower your risk of heart attack by eating less animal fat and more vegetables. Getting plenty of exercise and quitting smoking can also help. But for some people, low HDL runs in the family. If changes in diet and exercise don't raise your HDL level, your doctor might recommend medicine.
Not all cholesterol is bad for me.
HDL is often called "good" cholesterol because high levels are linked with a lower risk of heart attack and stroke.
Continue to Why?
When your doctor says that you have high cholesterol, it's because you have too much of the bad kind in your blood. A high level of LDL raises your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Having a high HDL level, which is the good kind of cholesterol, can help. High levels of HDL (60 or above) are linked with a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. HDL helps your body get rid of LDL. And the lower your LDL, the lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. Here's a good way to remember it:
The table below shows you where your HDL levels should be.
60 or higher
40 or higher
A high level of HDL makes me more likely to get heart disease.
A high level of HDL cholesterol lowers your risk of heart attack and stroke. In fact, an HDL level of 60 or higher is linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
Continue to How?
The first steps toward raising your HDL involve making changes to your lifestyle.
If these changes don't raise your HDL enough, your doctor might recommend medicine also.
It may seem simple enough, but the truth is that making lifestyle changes takes some work. And making lifestyle changes that become part of your normal routine is harder still. The key is to make small changes and make them a habit. And when you've turned one small change into a lifelong habit, start again with another small change.
Below you'll find some tips for making small changes that can help you get started on healthy changes. Over time, these things will help you raise your HDL. When you're ready, try the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) Program. It can help you lower LDL as well as raise HDL.
Here are a few tips to get you started on making small changes at home:
At the grocery store:
You don't have to run out and join a gym to get active. Start small, and try to make exercise a part of your daily routine.
For some people, some forms of physical activity might be unsafe or should only be started after talking with a doctor. If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor before starting any exercise or fitness program.
Here are a few tips if you're just starting out:
Remember that getting more active to raise your HDL is not a one-time thing. Activity is something to build into your daily life, for the rest of your life.
Here are a few tips for taking the next step.
If you need to lose a few pounds to reach a healthy weight, don't think you have to try a radical fad diet.
The best way to lose weight is to eat better and move more. Eating smaller portions of healthier food will make you feel better. And along with exercise or even light activity, eating better can help you lose extra pounds if you have them.
Look back at the tips for healthy eating and staying active. Make these changes into a habit, and you'll be on your way to a healthy weight.
Quitting smoking can help you raise your HDL. It's one of the best things you can do for your health. But it isn't easy. Here are a few tips for when you're ready to quit:
I may be able to raise my HDL without taking medicine.
The first steps toward raising your HDL involve making changes to your lifestyle. These changes include eating healthy foods, staying active, losing weight if you need to, and quitting smoking. If these lifestyle changes don't raise your HDL enough, then you may need to take medicine.
The best way for me to lose weight is to try a fad diet, like the no-carbs diet or the all-grapefruit diet.
The best way to lose weight is to eat better and move more. Eating smaller portions of healthier food will make you feel better, and along with exercise or even light activity, it can help you lose extra pounds if you have them. Fad diets often don't work. And even if they do, it's very hard to keep off any lost weight after you return to your normal routine.
Continue to Where?
Now that you have read this information, you are ready to start making changes to raise your HDL.
If you have questions about this information, print it out and take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to mark areas or make notes where you have questions.
Visit the American Heart Association (AHA) website for information on
physical activity, diet, and various heart-related conditions. You can search for information on heart disease and stroke, share information with friends and family, and use tools to help you make heart-healthy goals and plans. Contact the AHA to find your
nearest local or state AHA group. The AHA provides brochures and information
about support groups and community programs, including Mended Hearts, a
nationwide organization whose members visit people with heart problems and
provide information and support.
The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) provides education and tips for patients about how to lower high cholesterol. The NCEP provides clinical practice guidelines for health professionals to treat high cholesterol. The goal of the NCEP is to help people lower high cholesterol because this can lower their risk of coronary artery disease. The NCEP is part of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
(NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing
More information can be found in
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Other Works Consulted
Grundy SM, et al. (2001). Executive summary of the third report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III). JAMA, 285(19): 2486–2497.
June 29, 2012
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology
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