Ways to Help Boost Your 'Good' Cholesterol
At the risk of sounding like a certain 20-something socialite, HDL is hot! Recent advances in research have brought more attention to the blood lipid (or fat) we often call "good" cholesterol.
"Good" cholesterol doesn't refer to the cholesterol we eat in food, but to the high density lipoprotein cholesterol circulating in our blood. It's one of the blood fats measured in the lipid panel blood test doctors perform. And it's the component you want more of, because increasing HDL helps lower your risk of heart disease.
A recent report from an expert panel notes that although LDL or "bad" cholesterol has gotten most of the attention, there's growing evidence that HDL plays an important role.
Here are a few fast facts about "good" cholesterol panel:
- HDL cholesterol normally makes up 20%-30% of your total blood cholesterol.
- There's some evidence that HDL helps protect against the accumulation of plaques (fatty deposits) in the arteries.
- Research suggests that a 1% decrease in HDL cholesterol is linked to a 2%-3% increase in heart disease risk.
- In prospective studies - that is, studies that follow participants for a certain period to watch for outcomes -- HDL usually proves to be the lipid risk factor most linked to heart disease risk.
- HDL cholesterol levels are thought to have a genetic factor in some people.
- Women typically have higher HDL cholesterol levels than men. About a third of men and about a fifth of women have HDL levels below 40 mg/dL. (Doctors consider levels of less than 40 mg/dL to be low.)
Researchers who analyzed 60 studies concluded that the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL (in which your total cholesterol number is divided by your HDL number) is a better marker for coronary artery disease than LDL measurement alone.
Boosting HDL is the next frontier in heart disease prevention. Research says that if the new drugs designed to increase HDL levels prove effective, they could potentially reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes by 80% to 90% -- and save millions of lives. HDL-boosting drugs are now being tested.
How Does HDL Help?
Experts aren't yet sure exactly how HDL cholesterol helps reduce the risk of heart disease. But a few possibilities have emerged.
High HDL levels appear to protect against the formation of plaques in the artery walls (a process called atherogenesis), according to studies in animals.
Lab studies, meanwhile, suggest that HDL promotes the removal of cholesterol from cells found in abnormal tissues, or lesions, in the arteries.
Recent studies indicate that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of HDL also inhibit atherogenesis.
10 Ways to Increase Good Cholesterol
What many people don't know is that some diet and lifestyle changes may help to increase "good" cholesterol levels.
Here are some of the contenders:
1. Orange Juice
. Drinking three cups of orange juice a day increased HDL levels by 21% over three weeks, according to a small study (at 330 calories, that's quite a nutritional commitment). This study could be highlighting an effect from high-antioxidant fruits and vegetables.
There is some evidence niacin (vitamin B3) helps increase HDL. It is believed that people with low HDL levels might benefit from taking 500 milligrams of niacin each day, building up to 1,000 milligrams a day. But that supplemental niacin "can have some side effects and is not for everybody, particularly for people who already have high HDL levels. Anyone taking niacin supplements should be monitored by a doctor. Short of supplements, many foods contain niacin as well. Here are a few:
3. Glycemic Load.
||Amount of niacin
| White-meat chicken, 3.5 oz cooked
|| 13.4 mg
| Mackerel, 3.5 oz cooked
|| 10.7 mg
| Trout, 3.5 oz, cooked
|| 8.8 mg
| Salmon, 3.5 oz cooked
|| 8 mg
| Veal, 3.5 oz cooked
|| about 8 mg (ranges from 6.4-9.3)
| Dark-meat chicken, 3.5 oz cooked
|| 7.1 mg
| Lamb, 3.5 oz cooked
|| 6.6 mg
| White-meat turkey, 3.5 oz cooked
|| 6.2 mg
| Ground beef, 3.5 oz cooked
|| 5.3 mg
| Peanuts, 1/4 cup
|| 5.3 mg
| Pork, 3.5 oz cooked
|| about 4.8 mg (ranges from 4.1-5.4)
| Peanut butter, 2 tablespoons
|| 4.4 mg
| Beef steak, 3.5 oz cooked
|| about 4.1 mg (ranges from 3.6-4.5)
The glycemic load is basically a ranking of how much a standard serving of a particular food raises your blood sugar. And as the glycemic load in your diet goes up, HDL cholesterol appears to go down, according to a small recent study. Most of our carbohydrate intake come from whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and fat-free and low-fat dairy products. These foods tend to be on the lower end of the glycemic scale.
4. Choosing Better Fats.
Replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats can not only help reduce levels of "bad" cholesterol, it may also increase levels of "good" cholesterol.
Add heart health to the list of potential benefits from soy. A recent analysis found that soy protein, plus the isoflavones found in soy raised HDL levels 3%, which could reduce coronary heart disease risk about 5%. Messina notes that soy also may lead to a small reduction in LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (another type of blood fat), and a possible enhancement in blood vessel function. Other studies have shown a decrease in LDL cholesterol (about 3%) and triglycerides (about 6%) with about three servings of soy a day. That adds up to 1 pound of tofu, or three soy shakes.
6. Enough Time.
Make sure you give soy some time. An analysis of 23 studies on soy found that improvements in HDL cholesterol were only seen in those studies lasting longer than three months.
7. Alcohol in Moderation.
Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, especially with meals, appears to do two things to help reduce heart disease risk. According to researcher Byung-Hong Chung, PhD, it increases HDL cholesterol levels, and enhances the movement of cholesterol deposits out of cells in the artery walls.
8. Aerobic exercise.
At least 30 minutes on most days of the week is the exercise prescription that can help raise your HDL, according to many health care professionals.
9. Stopping smoking.
Experts agree that kicking the habit can increase your HDL numbers a bit, too.
10. Losing weight.
Being overweight or obese contributes to low HDL cholesterol levels, and is listed as one of the causes of low HDL, according to the NCEP.