When it comes to cholesterol, most of us worry about too much of the “bad” kind, low-density lipoprotein (LDL). It causes plaque to build up in and potentially block the arteries that supply your heart with blood.
But don’t overlook the “good” cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL). It helps remove excess cholesterol from arteries and eliminates it from your blood. Lifestyle changes can improve your HDL cholesterol. It’s worth the effort. According to the August issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource, raising your HDL cholesterol level even 1 milligram per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood can reduce your heart attack risk by as much as 3 percent.
Overall, it’s best to have a low level of LDL cholesterol and a high level of HDL cholesterol. For women, that means an LDL level below 100 mg/dL and a HDL level of 50 mg/dL and above. For men, it’s best to have the same LDL level, but an HDL level of 40 mg/dL and above. If your HDL falls below 50 mg/dL, you’re generally at increased risk of heart disease and heart attack.
Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource offers these suggestions to increase HDL cholesterol:
Stop smoking. You can increase your HDL by up to 20 percent when you quit.
Lose excess weight.
Eat a diet that’s low in saturated fat.
Drink alcohol in moderation. One drink with dinner, a 5-ounce glass of wine, has been shown to increase HDL. However, if you don’t drink, it’s not recommended that you start just because of the possible HDL benefits.
If healthy habits aren’t enough to raise HDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may recommend medications. Niacin, some statin drugs and a class of drugs called fibrates can raise HDL cholesterol for some people.
Revision date: July 9, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD