When we talk about cholesterol, it’s usually the ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol that steals the show. And there’s no denying that if your LDL-cholesterol levels are high, it’s vitally important to take steps to lower them*. But what about the ‘good’ HDL-cholesterol? Why exactly is it ‘good’, and how do you go about raising HDL levels? It’s no secret. Here’s why and how to increase HDL-cholesterol levels.
Why is it important to find ways to raise HDL-cholesterol?
The reason why HDL-cholesterol is seen as the ‘good’ cholesterol involves lipoproteins, the tiny carriers of cholesterol around the body.
‘Bad’ LDL-cholesterol is carried by low density lipoproteins, which can deposit cholesterol on artery walls. This is why it’s important to keep LDL-cholesterol levels low, and why elevated LDL cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. Just remember that there are many risk factors for coronary heart disease, and you may need take care of all of them to reduce the overall risk of it.
But there’s a hero in this story too. ‘Good’ HDL-cholesterol is carried by high density lipoproteins, which can pick cholesterol up and deliver it to the liver to be eliminated. So it’s a good idea to decrease LDL-cholesterol, and increase HDL-cholesterol.
What level should I be trying to raise HDL-cholesterol to?
The NHS recommends that while your total cholesterol should be less than 5 mmol/L (4 if you’re considered at higher risk of heart disease), your HDL-cholesterol should be over 1mmol/L – hence lots of people are wondering how to increase their HDL-cholesterol level. Which brings us to the next section of our guide …
How to raise HDL-cholesterol levels
If you’re hoping to raise HDL levels, there are some simple things you can do:
- Speak to a healthcare professional. There are certain medications and conditions that can impact your HDL levels, so it’s best to approach your GP for advice before trying to find ways to increase HDL-cholesterol.
- Quit smoking. There are many reasons to give up smoking – this is just one of them. A chemical in cigarettes called acrolein can keep HDL-cholesterol from taking LDL-cholesterol to the liver. Get help quitting from the NHS at https://www.nhs.uk/smokefree.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Find out if your BMI is within the recommended range here.
- Exercise. As well as giving you a lovely endorphin-fuelled mood boost and helping to control your weight, exercise is thought to increase HDL-cholesterol levels.
- Eat less saturated fat and more unsaturated fat. That means limiting your intake of foods such as fatty red meat and meat products, full fat dairy, coconut oils, and baked goods – and enjoying more oily fish, plant based oils like olive oil and vegetable oil, nuts, seeds, and vegetable-oil based spreads. Flora ProActiv spreads also contain plant sterols, which can help lower ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol*.
A quick caveat on the benefits of increasing HDL-cholesterol levels: It’s important to note that the benefits of HDL-cholesterol seem to level off once levels are at about 1.6mmol/L, and it’s unclear whether there are any additional benefits beyond that point. And while HDL is considered an important cardiovascular risk factor, more research is needed whether raising HDL-cholesterol directly reduces cardiovascular risk. It’s always best to speak to a healthcare professional about your cholesterol management.
Need more information?
These are our top tips on how to increase your HDL-cholesterol level, but remember: it’s important to try to actively lower your LDL-cholesterol level as well. Take a look at the useful information on our website for more help and support – or download our free Cholesterol Lowering Starter Kit for tips and tricks.
*Flora ProActiv contains plant sterols. A daily intake of 1.5 – 2.4g sterols can lower cholesterol by 7 – 10% in 2 – 3 weeks as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle including plenty of fruits and vegetables. High cholesterol is a risk factor of heart disease. There are multiple risk factors and you may need to address all of them to reduce your overall risk.