As defined by the US National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III guidelines, an HDL cholesterol (HDL-C) level of 60 mg/dL or greater is a negative (protective) risk factor. [3] On the other hand, a high-risk HDL-C level is described as being below 40 mg/dL. Randomized, controlled clinical trials have demonstrated that interventions to raise HDL-C levels are associated with reduced CHD events. A prospective analysis by Mora et al investigated the link between cholesterol and cardiovascular events in women and found that the baseline HDL-C level was consistently and inversely associated with incident coronary and coronary vascular disease events across a range of LDL-C values. [4]
HDL is actually more complex than we once thought. Rather than being a single kind of particle, HDL is is now considered a family of different particles. All HDL contains lipids (fats), cholesterol and proteins (called apolipoproteins), but some types of HDL are spherical while others are shaped like a doughnut. Some HDL types remove bad cholesterol from the blood while other types are indifferent to cholesterol. Or even worse, some HDL transfers cholesterol the wrong way (into LDL and cells) or protects LDL in a way that makes it more harmful to the arteries.
LDL stands for Low-Density Lipoproteins. This type of cholesterol is produced by the liver and is instrumental in the creation of cell walls, hormones, and digestive juices. However, when your LDL level is high, it can start to form a plaque-like substance on the walls of your cardiovascular system, blocking the natural flow of blood and leaving you at severe risk for heart attack and stroke. Put simply, LDL is the bad kind of cholesterol. But fear not – there are several ways in which you can lower your LDL cholesterol and encourage the development of High-Density Lipoproteins (good cholesterol), which actually function to limit the level of LDL cholesterol in your system.
Plant stanols and sterols (such as beta-sitosterol and sitostanol) are naturally-occurring substances found in certain plants. Stanols are also found as dietary supplements or are added to margarine, orange juice, and dressings. Research suggests that plant stanols and sterols may help to lower cholesterol. They are similar in structure to cholesterol and may help block the absorption of cholesterol from the intestines.

Once you control your protein and starch portions, you can fill the rest of your plate with heart-healthy fruits and vegetables. Aim for four to five servings of vegetables and four to five servings of fruits every day. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals and are great sources of fiber, which helps fill you up, control your weight, and improve cholesterol levels.
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Raise your glass for heart health! In moderation, alcohol is known to raise HDL, or "good," cholesterol. Drinking a daily glass of red wine increased "good" HDL cholesterol and also decreased "bad" LDL cholesterol after a few months, found one study. Red wine also contains antioxidants called polyphenols that help keep your blood vessels healthy and strong. Remember that moderation means one drink for women or two for men daily and, in this case, more is not better.
There is considerable controversy over whether high cholesterol is in itself a cause of heart disease (the lipid hypothesis), or a symptom of an inflammatory condition that is the true cause of heart disease (the inflammation hypothesis). According to the latter theory, chronically high levels of inflammation creates small lesions on arterial walls; the body sends LDL to heal those lesions, but it ultimately accumulates and oxidizes, causing blockages. From this perspective, the best lifestyle approach to lower cardiovascular disease risk is to lower inflammation in the body rather than LDL levels.
As a result of all this, doctors don’t just want you to lower your total cholesterol count; they want you to change the ratio as well, so you have more HDL and less LDL. “When we looked at the data, we found that the higher your HDL went, the lower your risk of heart attack,” says cardiologist William Castelli, M.D., former director of the Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts. An HDL level of 75 or more seems to convey extra longevity for many people, while a count of 100 or more is so beneficial that it was dubbed the “Methuselah syndrome” by one researcher. HDL less than 35 or so, meanwhile, can carry significant risk of heart disease. Genetics plays a large role in HDL. A few guys have naturally low levels and need to keep their LDL low as well to make up for it. (As Castelli puts it, you don’t need a substance that removes cholesterol from your blood if you don’t have much to begin with.) But there’s plenty that everyone else can do to pump up their HDL. Never one to shirk from a task that doesn’t involve housecleaning, I managed to find two handfuls of ways to turn my “good” numbers into great numbers.
So far, these studies have been disappointing, to say the least. The first major trial (concluded in 2006) with the first CETP inhibitor drug, torcetrapib (from Pfizer), not only failed to show a reduction in risk when HDL was increased but actually showed an increase in cardiovascular risk. Another study with another CETP inhibitor - dalcetrapib (from Roche) - was halted in May 2012 for lack of effectiveness. Both of these related drugs significantly increased HDL levels, but doing so did not result in any clinical benefit.
The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends you take in 2 grams of plant sterols and stanols each day. The FDA allows an approved health claim on phytosterols stating, "Foods containing at least 0.65 gram per serving of vegetable oil plant sterol esters, eaten twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 1.3 grams, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."
While the world of wellness endlessly touts of benefits of anti-inflammatory foods, who knew eating these could kill two birds with one stone by also improving your cholesterol? Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, the phytochemical that gives this berry its dark blue pigment and are essential to overall heart health through enhancing anti-inflammatory pathways as well as increasing HDL cholesterol levels, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. One 2013 study found that consuming blueberries in tandem with exercise can increase HDL levels even more than exercise alone.
According to a study published in November 2015 in the journal Nature, a diet high in carbohydrates — like added sugar, white bread, cookies, and cakes — reduces HDL cholesterol levels, increasing the risk for metabolic disorders. Refined carbohydrates found in foods labeled “low-fat” make these just as bad as full-fat foods because the fat is often replaced with carbohydrates from added sugar and other starches.
Starting a simple exercise routine is another way to help lower your elevated LDL cholesterol level. And if you compound working out with the dietary tips listed above, you could potentially lower your LDL level by over 37 percent and increase your HDL cholesterol by over 5 percent in just two months. Not to mention the added benefits of losing weight, decreased stress, and higher energy, exercising is an all-around great activity to incorporate into your life. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity, four to five times each week, and you’ll be well on your way.
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
Perhaps most disappointing of all, a new class of drugs (the so-called CETP-inhibitors), which several pharmaceutical companies have been enthusiastically developing for several years to raise HDL levels, has become a great disappointment. While these drugs do indeed increase HDL levels, they have not demonstrated an ability to improve cardiac risk — and on the contrary, studies appear to show a worsening in cardiac risk with some of these drugs. It is unclear today whether any CETP-inhibitors will ever reach the market.
About 80 percent of calories in nuts come from fat, but it's healthy unsaturated fat, not the artery-clogging kind. Nuts also are high in plant sterols, substances that block the absorption of cholesterol. Given these advantages, nuts are a natural for a heart-healthy diet. About an ounce and a half to two ounces a day should do it. Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and pistachios all confer benefits. So do peanuts, although they're technically a legume and not a nut.
Saturated fats. Typical sources of saturated fat include animal products, such as red meat, whole-fat dairy products, and eggs, and also a few vegetable oils, such as palm oil, coconut oil, and cocoa butter. Saturated fat can increase your levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol. But it has some benefits, too — it lowers triglycerides and nudges up levels of "good" HDL cholesterol.
Barley, oatmeal and brown rice have lots of soluble fiber, which has been proven to lower LDL cholesterol by reducing the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Try switching out your regular pasta for the whole-grain version, or use brown rice instead of white. To give an added cholesterol-busting kick, top your morning oatmeal with high-fiber fruit like bananas or apples.