(MayoClinic.com) Although your doctor may have told you to lower your total cholesterol, it's important to raise your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is known as the "good" cholesterol. It might sound like a mixed message, but reducing "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol may lower your risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that's found in all of your cells and has several useful functions, including helping to build your body's cells. It's carried through your bloodstream attached to proteins. These proteins are called lipoproteins.
Just lowering your LDL cholesterol might not be enough for people at high risk of heart disease. Increasing HDL cholesterol also can reduce your risk of heart disease.
Although higher levels of HDL can be helpful in reducing your risk of having a heart attack, researchers caution that you should also consider other risk factors for developing heart disease. It's possible that HDL may not be as helpful for some people as others based on genetics, the size of the HDL particles and other proteins in your blood. Talk to your doctor if you're concerned about how increasing your HDL cholesterol might affect you.Set your target HDL cholesterol level
Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood or millimoles (mmol) per liter (L). When it comes to HDL cholesterol, aim for a higher number.
|Men||Less than 40 mg/dL (1.0 mmol/L)||60 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) or above|
|Women||Less than 50 mg/dL (1.3 mmol/L)||60 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) or above|
If your HDL cholesterol level falls between the at-risk and desirable levels, you should keep trying to increase your HDL level to reduce your risk of heart disease.
If you don't know your HDL level, ask your doctor for a baseline cholesterol test. If your HDL value isn't within a desirable range, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes to boost your HDL cholesterol.Make your lifestyle count
Your lifestyle has the single greatest impact on your HDL cholesterol. Even small changes to your daily habits can help you meet your HDL target.
Choose healthier fats. A healthy diet includes some fat, but there's a limit. 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 damage your blood vessels.
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.
Some medications used to lower LDL cholesterol may also increase HDL cholesterol, including:
Niacin. Niacin (Niaspan) is usually the best medication to increase HDL cholesterol. Various prescription and over-the-counter preparations are available, but prescription niacin is preferred, as it has the least side effects. Dietary supplements containing niacin that are available over-the-counter are not effective for lowering triglycerides and may damage your liver.
You may have heard that a large study that examined the effect of niacin to raise HDL cholesterol was stopped early. This study examined how niacin worked when used with statin medications for people who have a history of heart disease. The trial was stopped because no difference was seen between people who took prescription-strength niacin and people who took a placebo. The study also found there may be a small increase in the risk of stroke for people who take niacin to increase their HDL cholesterol level. More research is necessary to see how effective niacin might be compared with other heart disease medications. You shouldn't stop taking niacin unless you get your doctor's OK. Talk to your doctor if you're concerned about taking niacin.
If your doctor prescribes medication to help control your cholesterol, take it as directed while you continue to focus on a healthy lifestyle.
Some foods may have a healthy effect on blood cholesterol levels. Some options include:
If you're currently taking medications, talk to your doctor before starting any supplement to avoid potential harmful interactions.
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