Here are five ways to boost HDL and reduce your risk for heart disease without medications.
our LDL is in good shape. That’s great news. Lowering your LDL (bad cholesterol) is the main target to lower your risk for heart disease. LDL is a big piece of the puzzle, but it’s important to also look at your HDL (good cholesterol) level.
HDL stands for high density lipoprotein. It helps the body get rid of bad cholesterol, which protects it against heart disease. HDL is thought to have other positive effects too. These include antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, plus other properties that cut risk of blood clots and relax blood vessels. The bottom line is that the higher your HDL, the better.
Low HDL is an independent risk factor for heart disease. That means if your HDL is 40 mg/dL or lower, it’s a risk factor for heart disease, no matter what your LDL or total cholesterol.
While much attention is paid to lowering LDL, boosting HDL is also important to cut your heart disease risk. How important? Low HDL is right up there on the list of risk factors doctors use to measure your risk for heart disease, along with smoking, age, family history and blood pressure.
When determining where your LDL level should be, your doctor takes your HDL into account. If you have a high HDL – a protective factor – your doctor may be less concerned about your LDL. If your HDL is low and your LDL high, you may need more aggressive treatment.
How can you raise HDL?
According to the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) cholesterol guidelines, an HDL of less than 40 mg/dL raises the risk of heart disease. Some medications used to lower LDL may also help raise HDL a bit too. But lifestyle factors, especially exercise, seem to have the greatest impact on raising HDL.
- Get regular physical activity. Exercise raises HDL and helps control weight and blood pressure. Research shows frequent aerobic exercise raises HDL by 5 percent in as little as two months in those who had been inactive. But always check with your doctor before you increase your activity level.
- Lose weight. If you are overweight, each pound lost can notch up your HDL.
- Avoid unhealthy fats. Replace saturated and trans fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in olive and canola oil, soy and flaxseed, nuts and fatty fish. Dietary changes combined with lifestyle changes may raise HDL while lowering LDL.
- Quit smoking. Tobacco reduces HDL. That goes for both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. If you quit, your HDL level may go up 5 percent to 10 percent.
- Limit alcohol consumption. If you drink, limit your alcohol to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. This moderate alcohol intake may increase HDL from 5 percent to 15 percent. If you don’t drink, though, health experts do not recommend that you start. Too much alcohol can have negative effects on your heart as well as other aspects of your health.