How to Raise Your HDL Cholesterol without Drugs
Most health-conscious people are concerned about their cholesterol levels, and for good reason. Elevated amounts of cholesterol in the blood are a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and atherosclerosis.
What is cholesterol? It’s a kind of fat carried in the bloodstream by lipoproteins. The two major types of these lipoproteins are high density lipoproteins, or HDL, and low density lipoproteins, or LDL. LDL cholesterol builds up deposits in your blood vessels called plaque. This plaque gradually makes the opening of the vessels smaller, restricting blood flow. With time, an artery can become completely blocked. If the blood supply to the heart is stopped, a heart attack occurs.
When the fatty LDL forms plaque and the normal blood flow is slowed down, clots are much more likely to occur. If one of these clots enters the brain, a stroke occurs. It’s understandable why LDL is often referred to as the “bad” cholesterol.
On the other hand, HDL is known as the “good” cholesterol. It travels through the blood vessels “picking up” LDL particles from the artery walls and then carries them to the liver. The liver gets rid of the bad cholesterol through bile.
With all this in mind, you want high HDL and low LDL. Optimum HDL levels are over 60, and if yours is under 40 if you’re male, or under 50 if you’re a female, you should definitely take measures to increase it. Desirable LDL levels are under 100.
Medications like statins are usually pretty effective for lowering your LDL cholesterol levels. What they’re not so good at, however, is raising your HDL numbers. It’s much easier to lower the bad than to increase the good, but for optimum health, you need to do both.
So how do you get that good cholesterol up? It’s not as simple as just popping a pill every day, but there are ways to make significant positive changes. Follow the tips below:
Stop smoking. Smoking has a detrimental effect on HDL cholesterol. Most doctors believe the toxins and free radicals in the tar and nicotine weaken the HDL’s beneficial actions by changing the chemistry of the good cholesterol. Most smokers who stop smoking soon see an increase in their HDL levels and often a decrease in their LDL levels. So in essence, you’ll get a two-for-one deal by putting down the smokes.
Eat more fiber. Eating soluble fiber is another “double whammy.” It increases the good cholesterol and decreases the bad. Good sources include oats, carrots, beans, oranges, apples, grapefruit, and tangerines.
Take niacin. Niacin, or nicotinic acid, is a B vitamin that occurs naturally in eggs, lean meats, poultry, fish, and dairy products. According to doctors at the Mayo Clinic, niacin can raise HDL by as much as 15-35 percent. Wow! That’s huge. Natural sources of niacin include nuts, legumes, chicken, beef, tuna, eggs, broccoli, carrots, asparagus, and milk.
Eat an onion. Studies suggest that eating half a raw onion a day can increase your HDL by as much as 25-30 percent.
Exercise. By exercising for 30 minutes, five days a week, your HDL levels will increase. This includes aerobic activities like jogging, running, tennis, dancing, stair-stepping, and brisk walking. If you’ve been sedentary for a while, begin by walking. If you have joint problems, try swimming. Recent studies show that it’s not the intensity of the workout that’s so important – it’s the duration.
Eat healthy fats. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats usually raise HDL levels. These include canola oil, peanut oil, and olive oil. Foods that contain healthy fats include nuts, avocado, and peanut butter. Remember, however, that even though these fats are beneficial, they should be consumed in moderation because they’re high in calories.
Omega-3s. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids might significantly increase HDL. You can take the soft gel omega-3 supplements or get them from your diet. Foods rich in omega-3s include tuna, salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, and sardines.
Lose weight. Losing excess weight is especially important in achieving and maintaining healthy levels of HDL. Shedding those extra pounds is even more crucial if they’re in the tummy area. According to the Mayo Clinic, for every six pounds you lose, your HDL level should increase by one point.
Have a drink. Studies show that by drinking one or two alcoholic drinks a day, HDL might be increased. In this case, a “drink” means one beer, five ounces of wine, or one ounce of liquor. More than two drinks a day, however, seems to have a detrimental effect.
Vitamin D. Some studies suggest that vitamin D can increase your good cholesterol. Foods rich in vitamin D include eggs, fortified milk, salmon, tuna, and fish oils. Exposure to sunlight, without the use of a sunscreen, is also a way to get vitamin D.
Cranberry juice. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that HDL can be raised by drinking cranberry juice. In the study, overweight men who drank two cups of low-calorie cranberry juice a day for sixteen weeks raised their HDL by eight percent.
Skip the fries. Foods that contain trans fats lower HDL levels and raise LDL levels. We’re shooting for the opposite, remember? Foods high in trans fats include baked goods like donuts, crackers, and cookies. They’re also found in fried foods and in many margarines. Learn to read those labels!
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