How can I raise the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) level in my body?

A high-density lipoprotein (HDL) level of approximately 60 mg/dl appears to provide tremendous protection against arterial aging. Although statins, especially Lipitor and Crestor, will help increase HDL levels, drugs are not the most effective way of improving your cholesterol ratio. In fact, no techniques have been proven to work for everyone. Consumption of healthy fats will also increase HDL levels, as will exercise. Women tend to have higher HDL levels than men and are able to improve their HDL levels with exercise to a greater extent than men. A recent North Carolina study found that aerobic exercise increased HDL 20 percent in female patients but only 5 percent in male patients. Also, drinking a glass of alcohol at night (half a glass for women) may increase your HDL.

For most people, losing excess weight improves their HDL readouts. Although the interaction between weight gain and cholesterol levels is still not well understood, the two are strongly related. Remember, if you lose weight you will reduce your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and your triglycerides and make yourself younger from those benefits. We look at those independently from weight loss, but they are a strong benefit of weight loss if you have an elevated LDL or triglyceride level. This effect occurs even if you have gone on the Atkins diet and have eaten a lot of saturated and trans fat. But remember, you want to modify that diet so you have healthy fats that because saturated and trans fats cause inflammation that will age your arteries. Choose healthy fats instead—for example, fish instead of red meat—even in the Atkins diet.

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Dr. Marcus J. Cox, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Lifestyle has the greatest impact on HDL cholesterol. Natural ways to increase HDL levels include exercise and tobacco cessation. Also important is weight loss. Choosing healthier “fats” which are the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is also important. These are found in olive, peanut, and canola oils. Lastly, drinking alcohol only in moderation has been linked to higher levels of HDL cholesterol. If medication is required or recommended, niacin, fibrates, and statins can help increase HDL levels.

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, cholesterol is often called “good” cholesterol because it helps keep cholesterol from building up inside blood vessels. Cholesterol is one of the components of plaque, the fatty substance that can over time block arteries and lead to a heart attack or stroke. An HDL cholesterol reading below 40 indicates an increased risk for heart attack, stroke or blockages in the arteries of the legs (peripheral artery disease).

Your physician can work with you to help you raise your HDL cholesterol levels. Your plan to raise HDL cholesterol levels will include a combination of lifestyle changes and medication:

  • Regular exercise - Work with your physician to determine the intensity and frequency of exercise that is best for you.
  • Diet - Choose oils that can protect your heart and blood vessels, including olive oil, canola oil, corn oil, sunflower oil or safflower oil. For additional protection for your heart, eat fish two or three times per week. Choose salmon, sardines, herring, albacore tuna, rainbow trout and other types that are high in beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Smoking - If you smoke, quit. Quitting smoking has been demonstrated to raise HDL levels. Additionally, you will be lowering your overall risks of heart disease and cancer.
  • Weight - If you are overweight, work with your physician to identify and achieve a new target weight. Weight loss raises HDL levels.
  • Medications - Niacin, fibrates and statins have all been demonstrated to raise HDL levels, particularly niacin. Work with your physician to determine if medication should be a part of your efforts to raise HDL levels.

There are several medications available from your doctor that can slightly increase your HDL level. However, the best and most reliable way to increase your HDL is to do cardio exercise regularly. This increases your HDL more than any medication.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

For a change, we actually want to increase something in your body—your high density lipoprotein (HDL) levels. HDL is the "good" kind of cholesterol, the kind that's carried by high-density lipoproteins. You want as high an HDL level as possible—at least greater than 40. Increasing your HDL can be done a couple of ways:

  • Consuming healthy fats found in olive oil, fish, and walnuts (a tablespoon, 4 ounces, or 12 a day is the right amount)
  • Walking or any physical activity for 30 minutes a day
  • Having a drink of alcohol every night (seven on Saturday night doesn't count). But if you're at risk for alcoholism or see other signs that drinking alcohol could be unwise, skip this tip.
Dr. Kelly Traver

Keep your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level above 40 mg/dl if you are a man and above 50 mg/dl if you are a woman. Women need a higher level of HDL to get the same protective effect. Exercise is the best way to raise the HDL level. You can also increase HDL through a reduction of excess body fat and smoking cessation. Alcohol can raise the level, too, but remember not to overdo it. One drink per day for a woman and two drinks for a man-that's the limit. Omega-3 fatty acids can also raise your HDL level and lower your triglyceride level at the same time. You should either eat fatty fish, such as salmon, three times a week or take fish oil supplements, 2 g a day, if you are trying to affect your HDL cholesterol level.

Not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a healthy diet can help you raise the high-density lipoprotein levels in your body. Watch this video to learn more from Dr. Curtis Mann about how you can raise the high-density lipoprotein level in your body.

There are many ways to raise your HDL cholesterol without medication. Some tips include:
  • Performing aerobic exercise
  • Losing weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Decreasing fat intake (particularly saturated fat)
  • Increasing fiber intake
  • Eating foods rich in unsaturated fats (fish, nuts, avocado)
  • Taking an omega-3 and/or omega-6 supplement
To raise high-density lipoprotein levels, avoid smoking, engage in regular exercise, eat more fiber and use olive, peanut, or canola oil for cooking. Also avoid excess alcohol consumption.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.