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Give Your Good Cholesterol a Boost: How to Raise Low HDL Cholesterol Levels

Updated on January 30, 2014

Having low cholesterol can be a good thing and a bad thing. On the good side, when your LDL cholesterol is low, your heart is happy. On the bad side, when your HDL cholesterol is low, your heart isn't happy.

Your HDL cholesterol is what gets rid of the extra LDL cholesterol (the cholesterol everyone is warned against) from your blood. When you have low HDL levels, you are at risk for heart disease, which becomes more of a risk when your LDL levels and your triglycerides are high.

What Causes Low HDL Cholesterol Levels?

In addition to high LDL cholesterol and high triglycerides, as well as genetics, there are other factors that can contribute to low HDL levels. According to the Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), these include:

  • Overweight and obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Very high carbohydrate intakes (>60 percent of total energy intake)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Certain drugs (beta-blockers, anabolic steroids, progestational agents)

What Raises HDL Levels?

Exercising and eating healthier are two of the most important ways to improve your HDL levels. If you are overweight or obese, becoming more active and lowering your intake of carbohydrates will help you to lose weight, which, in turn, will help to raise your HDL cholesterol.

For those with diabetes, it's necessary to keep an eye on your blood sugar. If your blood sugar levels are too high, your HDL levels won't be.

For those who smoke, you already know what you have to do. Quitting smoking has many health benefits, but it is especially beneficial in helping to get your HDL cholesterol back up where it belongs.

One glass of red wine a day can also give a definite increase to your HDL levels, but before changing or adding anything new to your daily routine, check with your doctor first.


What Foods Increase HDL Levels?

Reduce or eliminate saturated and trans fats from your diet to increase your HDL levels, and eat more fruits and vegetables. Find some berries, in particular, for their work against bad cholesterol and for their good taste. Even fruit juices like grape, cranberry or orange juice can give your HDL a nice boost.

Eggs, which were once thought of as a bad choice for cholesterol, are actually on the good side. Nuts, eaten alone or sprinkled on top of other foods, are on the list as well for more HDL-spiking ideas. Some nuts to try are walnuts, peanuts, pecans and almonds.

A few other foods to consider are oatmeal, fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna and halibut), avocado and olive oil. Olive oil can be used in place of butter and other cooking oils, but use it sparingly as it is high in fat.

What Medications Help to Improve HDL Levels?

There are some medications that work to lower your LDL cholesterol while raising your HDL cholesterol at the same time.

One over-the-counter drug to consider is Niacin. It can be very effective and very strong, so consult with your doctor before trying it. For the fewest side effects, taking Niacin by prescription is the better option.

A couple of other medications that will help to raise your HDL levels are Fibrates and Statins. The Mayo Clinic states, "Statins block a substance your liver needs to make cholesterol. This reduces cholesterol in your liver cells, which causes your liver to remove cholesterol from your blood."

If your HDL cholesterol levels are too low, changing your diet and exercising more might not be enough to help. If you're like most people, however, living a healthier life by replacing some bad choices with better ones is all that is needed.


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      John 3 years ago

      "Reduce or eliminate saturated and trans fats from your diet to increase your HDL levels, and eat more fruits and vegetables. … Even fruit juices like grape, cranberry or orange juice can give your HDL a nice boost."

      For two months I have taken fries out of my diet and added 6 bananas and 12 ounces of orange juice per day. The result: my total cholesterol went from 128 mg/dL to 152 mg/dL, my LDL-cholesterol went from 76 mg/dL to 87 mg/dL, my HDL-cholesterol went from 42 mg/dL to 33 mg/dL, and my triglycerides went from 51 mg/dL to 157 mg/dL. From what you say, my HDL-cholesterol should have gone up; but it went down. How do you explain this?

    • T-X-2 profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from Louisiana

      So many people fight with high cholesterol and trying to keep their HDL levels low. I agree with you about lifestyle and eating habits playing a big part in it. Thanks for stopping by, Jason.

    • jasonycc profile image

      jasonycc 4 years ago from South East Asia

      A substantial majority of the population has this problem. In my opinion, lifestyle and eating habits is the main cause of it. Thanks for sharing this information and advice. I find it useful. Cheers.

    • T-X-2 profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from Louisiana

      You are so right. Eating healthier is at the top of the list for many of us. I hope things start to look up for you soon. Thank you for writing.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      I got lipid profile recently and it did not look good. Lifestyle change was one of the recommendations. In particular I need to eat healthier.