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Increase Your HDL (Good) Cholesterol

I’ve been asked to do a little bit of research concerning the most effective ways to increase HDL, or good cholesterol, levels. When I last talked about cholesterol, I tried to articulate the premise that the relationship between dietary cholesterol and bodily cholesterol levels was not clear cut. That the best way to reduce LDL, or bad cholesterol, levels was probably to reduce saturated fat intake. Total fat intake, especially saturated fat and trans fat, plays a larger role in blood cholesterol levels than intake of cholesterol itself.

What is Cholesterol’s Purpose in the Body?

Cholesterol forms part of the outer membrane that surrounds every cell. Cholesterol insulates nerve fibres and makes hormones, which carry chemical signals around the body.

The liver produces 1000-1400 milligrams of cholesterol each day. That’s three to four times the 300 milligram USDA recommended limit for dietary cholesterol. The liver has mechanisms which regulate cholesterol production in response to our dietary cholesterol intake. The more dietary cholesterol that is consumed, the less the liver makes.

LDL (bad cholesterol) is a lipoprotein which transports cholesterol from the liver to the body’s tissues. If the supply of LDL exceeds demand, the excess is deposited on the walls of the arteries. This can contribute to the narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, leading to the development of heart disease.

HDL (good cholesterol) collects cholesterol from your arterial walls when the body’s done with it by transfering cholesterol from the body’s tissues back to the liver. The liver then excretes it through bile.

HDL levels between 40 and 60 are considered satisfactory. A good level of HDL cholesterol is at least 60mg/dL.

Simply put, LDL and HDL are the proteins which carry cholesterol to and from the liver and the circulatory system. If you have high LDL, you may have excess cholesterol being transported from the liver to the blood. If you have low HDL, you may not have enough cholesterol being transported from the blood to the liver.

Either way, you may end up with heart disease.

Sidenote: There is some evidence that not all LDL is bad. That what really matters is the size of the LDL particles, with bigger being better. In addition, according to the American Heart Association, some experts believe that HDL removes excess cholesterol from arterial plaque, slowing its buildup.

So, how do we increase HDL cholesterol levels?

Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic has three primary suggestions for increasing HDL:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Losing even a few pounds can improve your HDL level. For every 2 pounds you lose, your HDL may increase by 0.35 mg/dL (0.01 mmol/L). That’s about 1 mg/dL (0.03 mmol/L) for every 6 pounds.
  • Get more physical activity. Frequent aerobic exercise can increase HDL cholesterol by about 5 percent in otherwise healthy sedentary adults. Your best bet for increasing HDL cholesterol is to exercise briskly for 30 minutes, five times a week, so that you get more than 120 minutes of brisk aerobic exercise a week.
  • Increase Monounsaturated Fats: These are oils like avocado, olive, canola and those found in peanut butter. In a heart-healthy diet, between 25 and 35 percent of your total daily calories can come from fat — but saturated fat should account for less than 7 percent of your total daily calories. Avoid foods that contain saturated and trans fats, which raise LDL cholesterol and worsen inflammatory effects. Trans fat is found in many margarines and commercial baked products, and anything that contains partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. On the other hand, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — found in olive, peanut and canola oils — tend to improve HDL’s anti-inflammatory abilities. Nuts, fish and other foods containing omega-3 fatty acids are other good choices for improving your LDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol ratio.


Other Suggestions

Additional steps which are generally recommended that may increase HDL:

Add Soluble Fiber: Soluble fibers are those found in vegetables, fruits, and oats.

My Take: I am a recent convert to the benefits of soluble fiber, and I am finding that I like it. I try to drink a glass of Metamucil daily. The orange is pretty tasty. No, really…

Increase Omega-3 Intake: Fish oil can increase HDL over a long period of time.

My Take: I have started to take two 1000 mg fish oil pills with my Metamucil. No, really….

Drink a glass of Red Wine: A glass of red wine per day can increase HDL levels.

Avoid Ultra Low Fat Diets: Conventional dietary wisdom over the last few decades has been to reduce fat intake. But, just as we’re learning that dietary cholesterol does not necessarily correlate to total body cholesterol, we’re beginning to understand that eating fat won’t necessarily make you fat. In fact, it might make you skinny.

As American’s have reduced their red meat consumption over the last 30 years, saturated fat intake has also fallen as a percentage of overall calorie consumption. Unfortunately, this decline in saturated fat intake was not compensated for by an increase in mono-unsaturated fats. Eliminating too much fat from your diet can reduce your HDL cholesterol when that fat is of the monounsaturated variety.

My Take: Almonds, Olive Oil and Avocados. Rinse and repeat.

About that Exercise

Most articles on increasing HDL recommend 30 minutes of exercise “more often than not.” I’ve yet to do a big dissertation on why I think that our conventional notions of exercise are incorrect. I plan on doing so soon, but in the mean time I will say this:

Less jogging, more sprinting.

Less walking, more weight lifting.

Less aerobic, more anaroebic.

  • Get more exercise.
  • Fish Oil Supplements
  • A glass or two of Metamucil a day
  • Increase consumption of the following foods: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Canola and vegetable oils, Almonds and Walnuts, fish, green veggies, avocados

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