Blood cholesterol is a substance made by your liver which is necessary for good health. It’s waxy and fat-like and found in every cell of your body. It has a very important role, especially when it comes to producing hormones, building body cells, digesting food and producing vitamin D. In the United States, cholesterol is typically evaluated by how many milligrams of cholesterol are in a deciliter of blood (mg/dL).
Cholesterol travels through your bloodstream via special proteins, called lipoproteins. There are two main types of lipoproteins: high-density lipoprotein (or HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
1. High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL)
It is also known as ‘good’ cholesterol, since it absorbs and carries cholesterol from other body parts back to the liver. Your liver is the one that then eliminates excess cholesterol from the body. When HDL is at a good level, it can do this efficiently.
The desirable HDL levels, considered a great defense mechanism against heart disease< are 60mg/dL and higher. If the levels are lower than 40mg/dL, you are in the high-risk zone of cardiovascular illnesses.
2. Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL)
This one is also called ‘bad’ cholesterol. When your body builds up too much LDL, it sticks to the walls of your blood vessels. This buildup is called “plaque”. The inside of your blood vessels become narrower because of this buildup, not unlike a pipe that has a buildup of limescale. It blocks the normal blood flow to and from your heart and all the other organs. If the blood flow to the heart is restricted, that could cause chest pain and a heart attack.
It is recommended by the American Heart Association to get a cholesterol blood test by the age of 20. Your family history, age and risk factors will determine how often you should get this test done. If you have low HDL and high LDL levels, your doctor will most likely focus on lowering the LDL cholesterol first. Cholesterol-lowering medications called statins, such as simvastatin (Zocor), atorvastatin (Lipitor) and Fluvastatin (Lescol), are the most commonly used treatments for high LDL cholesterol.
Risk Factors for High Cholesterol
Your lifestyle, family history and certain health conditions could all be potential risk factors for high cholesterol.
- Familial hypercholesterolemia – this genetic condition causes extremely high levels of LDL starting at a young age, which worsens with age if left untreated
- Eating a lot of food that is full of trans and saturated fat
- Type 2 diabetes
- Not getting enough exercise
How to Raise HDL Levels
If you wish to increase your HDL levels, there are some lifestyle changes that may help with that. These could also help prevent other illnesses and benefit your overall health:
1. Maintain a Healthy Diet
Lower HDL levels are more common with people who have some kind of metabolic disorder, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. Raising your HDL levels requires eating ‘good’ fats instead of the ‘bad’ ones. Trying a Mediterranean diet might be a good start. Foods that are beneficial for increasing your HDL levels include:
- Avocados – they are an amazing source of monounsaturated fatty acids that boost HDL levels and lower LDL. If you eat one avocado daily, while following a balanced diet, you could see up to 13.5mg/dL drop in bad cholesterol levels.
- Olive oil – the fat that is found in olive oil and olives can lower the inflammation caused by LDL in your body. You can use it for cooking (but only at low temperatures), in salads and to flavor other types of food.
- Fatty fish – they have plenty of omega-3 fatty acids which can also lower bad cholesterol levels in your blood. Some of these include tuna, sardines, and salmon. If you’re not into fish, ask your doctor about fish oil supplements.
- Whole grains – Brown rice, cereals, and bran contain fiber which could lower your overall cholesterol levels and in turn give HDL levels a boost.
- Nuts – peanuts, pistachio, and almonds are full of heart-healthy fats. They also have a substance known as plant sterols, which stops cholesterol absorption in your body.
- Beans – these are a fantastic source of soluble fiber and folate, which are both very healthy for your heart.
2. Lose Weight
Being overweight may decrease HDL levels and raise LDL, a double whammy. Exercising daily and eating a balanced diet will benefit an overweight person greatly. A weight loss of 10 percent could highly improve his or her overall cholesterol level.
3. Increase Physical Activity
Exercise is great for your overall health, not just for losing weight. A study showed that running, jogging, swimming, and cycling lowered LDL levels and reduced the risk of multiple heart diseases. Yoga and walking can also moderately decrease bad cholesterol levels. Adults are advised to have 2 and a half hours of exercise every week, while children and adolescents should be active for at least 1 hour each day.
4. Quit Smoking
Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke can seriously lower your HDL levels, damage your blood vessels and increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. If you want to quit, ask your doctor for the best way to do it.
5. Limit the Use Of Alcohol
Even though one drink a day could actually bring up your HDL levels, too much alcohol can cause great damage to the liver and actually increase LDL levels. Overconsumption of alcohol can also cause weight-gain and elevate your triglyceride levels.
A few types of medications improve HDL levels, such as niacin fibrates and sometimes statins, especially simvastatin and rosuvastatin (Crestor).
If you are worried about your cholesterol levels and are wondering how to raise HDL, changing your lifestyle might be the best way to go. Changing your eating habits and doing regular exercise will not only lower your risk of a stroke and heart attack but could greatly benefit every other aspect of your health.