Where HDL is concerned, “you can’t be too thin,” Castelli says. One report found about a 1 percent rise in HDL for every pound of fat lost. This doesn’t mean you have to turn yourself into a toothpick, but that you should work on getting rid of excess flab as you add muscle. (Use a body-fat monitor rather than a scale to chart your progress.) Fortunately, fat loss is likely to go hand in hand with the exercise and dietary modifications that also raise HDL levels.
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.
Do you dread opening up the white envelope of lab results after your annual physical only to discover a jumble of numbers, red ink, and arrows pointing every possible direction? Lipid or cholesterol panel results can be confusing to comprehend, and when numbers come back “out of range” it can only further fuel feelings of discouragement and helplessness.
Of course, shifting to a cholesterol-lowering diet takes more attention than popping a daily statin. It means expanding the variety of foods you usually put in your shopping cart and getting used to new textures and flavors. But it's a "natural" way to lower cholesterol, and it avoids the risk of muscle problems and other side effects that plague some people who take statins.
In both studies, mega-doses of statins (a doubling and tripling of regular doses) drove LDL levels way down. But in both studies, mega-doses also caused problems. Suffering from adverse side effects like muscle pain, memory loss, and elevated liver enzymes, patients on the high doses stopped taking their medications at twice the rate of patients on regular doses.
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."
Nuts are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, so almonds, walnuts, or pistachios can help reduce your LDL levels. Try sprinkling them on your salad, or eat them right out of hand as a snack. Just be sure to choose the low-salt option, and keep it to about 1.5 ounces a day -- nuts are also high in calories. For almonds, that’s about 30 almonds or 1/3 cup.
There's no magical food to keep your heart healthy, but there are a lot of foods that can help—including these foods that help lower your cholesterol. In addition to cutting back on foods that can raise total cholesterol and getting enough exercise, make sure to eat more of these foods that improve your cholesterol profile by raising "good" HDL and/or lowering "bad" LDL cholesterol. These foods include some old standbys, such as oatmeal and fruit, plus a few surprising foods that can help lower cholesterol to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
While diet and exercise should be your two main options for fighting off LDL cholesterol, you can also look into the various dietary supplements that are on the market today. Consider omega-3 fish oils, artichoke extract, and green tea extract. Keep in mind that these natural products have not been fully proven to reduce your level of LDL cholesterol, but they may be able to help along the way.
More long-term studies are needed in order to determine whether or not it is the actual loss of weight or the diet and exercise that go along with it that causes the reduction in LDL levels. It is also possible that LDL cholesterol can eventually return to original levels, even when weight loss is maintained. Nonetheless, the prospect makes weight maintenance and good nutrition worthy goals to have.
All cherries are delicious, but there's something extra special about this sour variety. "I love snacking on dried Montmorency tart cherries not only because they have a sour-sweet flavor, but because they also have fiber," Gorin says. "Plus, you get other heart-helping benefits, too. Anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant found in purple and dark red fruits and vegetables, may help decrease the risk of heart attack in women."
Trans fatty acids are likely present in many of your favorite prepared foods— anything in which the nutrition label reads "partially hydrogenated vegetable oils" — so eliminating them from the diet is not a trivial task. But trans fatty acids not only increase LDL cholesterol levels, but they also reduce HDL cholesterol levels. Removing them from your diet will almost certainly result in a measurable increase in HDL levels.
Paying close attention to what you eat can help you reduce your risk of developing atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of arteries caused by plaque build-up inside the arteries. As the arteries narrow, blood can't flow properly through the arteries. Theis can lead to a heart attack or stroke. If the artery-clogging process has already begun, you may be able to slow it down by making changes in your lifestyle, including your diet.
Besides putting your heart health at risk, sugar is also known to be one of the most significant contributors to metabolic syndrome. In fact, the recent 2015 Dietary Guidelines labeled sugar as a “nutrient of concern” and voiced recommendations for added sugars to not exceed greater than 10% of total daily calories. So, if your goal is to nip sugar in the bud and increase your HDL cholesterol levels, start by evaluating your libations.
When it comes to cholesterol, not all types are created equal, and it is important to understand how lifestyle choices significantly impact cardiovascular health. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as the “healthy” or “good” type of cholesterol due to the fact that it scavenges and removes the “bad” type of cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) known to clog arteries. A desirable HDL level is anything greater than 60 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
Sugar and spice and everything nice… except for the fact that recent data has shown that added sugar is not so nice for our cardiovascular health or waistlines. In fact, a study published in Circulation found that people with the highest consumption of added sugars show significantly lower HDL levels. To cut back on your added sugar intake and increase HDL levels, consider replacing sugar with dates when you’re making baked goods like homemade granola bars, cookies, and cakes. It’s one way to slice total added sugars in half and will also give your sweet treat extra fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
It’s harder to increase HDL or "good" cholesterol than it is to lower LDL or total cholesterol. It’s estimated that up to 80 percent of the variation in HDL from person to person is due to genetic factors. But the following steps have been shown to boost HDL—and they are worth taking because they also lower total cholesterol and help protect the heart in many ways beyond their effect on HDL.
As if we needed another excuse to grab a second scoop of guac at the tailgate? Avocados are the poster child for the heart-healthy diet due to their rich abundance of monounsaturated fat, high fiber, and potassium. Monounsaturated fats from avocados, in particular, have been connected to an increase of HDL cholesterol and decreases of total cholesterol, LDL particles, and triglycerides, as shown in an Archives of Medical Research study. These can even be substituted for heart-harmful hydrogenated oils in baked goods as the fruit yields the same creamy texture and mouthfeel. Avocado brownies anyone?!
If you’re getting worked up over high cholesterol, then start working out. Daily exercise can help raise your HDL cholesterol levels and reduce your LDL cholesterol, while protecting you from many health conditions. Begin by choosing an activity that sounds like fun to avoid “workout burn-out.” Consider jogging, brisk walking, cycling, tennis, swimming or hitting the gym. Find an exercise partner to make the activity more enjoyable and help you stay on track. And while exercise can lower your cholesterol, it can also reduce your stress and anxiety. So working up a sweat can also save you from sweating the small stuff.
A study published in January 2016 in the journal Nutrients found that an antioxidant-rich diet raises HDL cholesterol levels in relation to triglycerides, and might be associated with a reduced risk of stroke, heart failure, and inflammatory biomarkers. Antioxidant-rich foods include dark chocolate, berries, avocado, nuts, kale, beets, and spinach.
HDL serves as a chemical shuttle that transports excess cholesterol from peripheral tissues to the liver. This pathway is called the RCT system. In this system, plasma HDL takes up cholesterol from the peripheral tissues, such as fibroblasts and macrophages. (A study by El Khoury et al indicated that in persons with HALP, macrophages have an increased plasma cholesterol efflux capacity.  ) This may occur by passive diffusion or may be mediated by the adenosine triphosphate (ATP)–binding cassette transporter 1. The latter interacts directly with free apo A-I, generating nascent, or so-called discoidal, HDL. Cholesterol undergoes esterification by lecithin-cholesterol acyltransferase (LCAT) to produce cholesteryl ester, which results in the production of the mature spherical HDL. Cholesterol is also taken up from triglyceride-rich lipoproteins in a process mediated by a phospholipid transfer protein (ie, CETP). [19, 20, 21, 22]
However, although low levels of HDL predict increased cardiovascular risk, particularly in healthy individuals with no history of cardiovascular events, the relationship between HDL and CHD risk is complex, with HDL-C and cardiovascular disease having a nonlinear relationship. For example, research found that HDL levels above approximately 60 mg/dL showed no further improvement in prognosis, and the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition)-Norfolk and IDEAL (Incremental Decrease in End Points through Aggressive Lipid Lowering) studies showed that very high levels of HDL may actually be associated with an increased risk of atherosclerotic disease. [5, 6, 2]