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How to Raise Your HDL Cholesterol without Drugs

Updated on November 19, 2009

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!


Studies suggest that consuming raw onions can raise your "good" cholesterol!
Studies suggest that consuming raw onions can raise your "good" cholesterol!


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    • nancynurse profile image

      Nancy McClintock 5 years ago from Southeast USA

      Good advice. Thanks

    • profile image

      VerbalDiar 5 years ago

      I wonder how Habee's HDL is right now!

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 6 years ago

      Great info. I certainly believe in exercise and omega 3 and follow it.

    • njmanura profile image

      Dr Manura Nanayakkara 6 years ago from Sri Lanka

      Thanks for the informative hub

    • profile image

      r. ksabharwal 6 years ago


    • profile image

      REBECCA 6 years ago


    • profile image

      ShoppersWing 6 years ago

      Oh Boy! I first thought its only Cholesterol, now it seems to be divided in good/bad.

      Since I read your hub, I had been digging more and I got some useful information here too

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks! I'm married to a senior citizen. lol

    • profile image

      ravindran 7 years ago

      excellent advice to all especially to the senior citizens

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Good, Top! I'm glad the hub helped you understand cholesterol!

    • profile image

      TopUniverse 7 years ago

      Now i understand the importance of HDL cholesterol and how to raise them.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Fredi! I failed to mention the refined carbs.

    • profile image

      Fredi 8 years ago

      Secrets of how to raise hdl cholesterol without medications.

      • 1. Practice some light exercise

      • 2. Keep your weight normal

      • 3. Avoid eating saturated fats,

      • 4. Eat at least 2 servings of foods containing soluble fibers daily

      • 5. Beware that refined carbohydrates

      Sources of this info is

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      I love pomegranates! In fact, I wrote a hub about them. Thanks for the tips, Crow, and for reading!

    • profile image

      Calling Crow 8 years ago


      I just wanted to add one to your list. Pomegranates are awesome little bundles of joy! One of my favorite juices is a cran-pomegranate mix (100% juice of course) and it just feels good to drink it. Well come to find out, some studies suggest that the pomegranate helps with choleserol as well as reducing risk factors for heart disease and possible affects against certain cancers.

      They require a little work, but I say it's worth it!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      Get a blood test with a cholesterol panel.

    • beth811 profile image

      beth811 8 years ago from Pearl of the Orient Seas

      Good information! Thanks for sharing. May I ask, how do we know that we have the right HDL cholesterol level?

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      You're welcome, HH. My LDL is not high, but my HDL is too low. I'm working on it! Thanks for visiting!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 8 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you very much these great information. I high cholesterol and am very interested in getting it down.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks so much to both of you!

    • nlhouser profile image

      nlhouser 8 years ago from Central Nebraska

      As someone with high cholesterol, I found this article very interesting. It covered a lot of areas but in an easy way to read and understand. Very good.

    • Hmrjmr1 profile image

      Hmrjmr1 8 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Sound Advice Well Done!