You've probably heard that fried foods of all kinds, hydrogenated oils, and full-fat dairy products are cholesterol bombs that are best avoided (and not just by those watching their cholesterol levels). The American Heart Association recommends that everyone restrict these foods, as they contain trans and saturated fats, the "bad" kind that raises LDL cholesterol and leads to plaque buildup in the arteries.

Many people don't like to hear it, but regular aerobic exercise (any exercise, such as walking, jogging or bike riding, that raises your heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes at a time) may be the most effective way to increase HDL levels. Recent evidence suggests that the duration of exercise, rather than the intensity, is the more important factor in raising HDL cholesterol. But any aerobic exercise helps.
Many fruits contain soluble fiber, which is important for lowering cholesterol, but apples have a leg up on other fruits. Apples (especially the skins) contain pectin, a type of soluble fiber that latches onto the "bad" cholesterol and guides it through your digestive system and out of your body, effectively lowering your LDL-cholesterol levels. Citrus fruits are also high in pectin, but since it's mostly in the pulp, you'll have to eat your fruits to get the benefits, rather than juice them. Luckily, apples are a little easier to pucker up to than lemons. Apples are also high in polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that help reduce inflammation.
Plasma HDL is a small, spherical, dense lipid-protein complex that is half lipid and half protein. The lipid component consists of phospholipids, free cholesterol, cholesteryl esters, and triglycerides. The protein component includes apo A-I (molecular weight, 28,000) and apo A-II (molecular weight, 17,000). Other minor, but important, proteins are apo E and apo C, including apo C-I, apo C-II, and apo C-III.
HDL cholesterol carries excess cholesterol to your liver so it doesn’t build up in your bloodstream. But when LDL cholesterol moves cholesterol throughout your body, it can build up in the walls of the arteries, making them hard and narrow. If you have too little HDL cholesterol and too much LDL, you may be diagnosed with high cholesterol, a condition that can lead to atherosclerosis, angina (often experienced as chest pain), heart attack, and stroke.

Including fish in your diet can increase HDL cholesterol in a short period of time. In a study published in February 2014 in the journal PLoS One, researchers concluded that a diet rich in foods including fish showed an increase in the size of HDL particles in the body, which could help improve cholesterol transport through the body. The researchers saw the positive effects of a diet that included fish in as little as 12 weeks.
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.

Typically, a fasting plasma lipid profile is ordered to measure LDL, HDL, total cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Lipids in plasma and in isolated lipoprotein fractions are quantified by enzymatic methods. Prior consumption of food has little effect on the determination of HDL, with postprandial blood samples usually yielding results that can be well interpreted. [14, 2] Current clinically available techniques can determine the cholesterol content, but not the biologic function, of HDL particles. [2]
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.
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.
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Plain and simple, exercise raises HDL levels. “We looked at doctors and others who ran the Boston Marathon,” notes Castelli. “While the average male HDL is 45, men who ran the marathon ranged around 55.” One Georgetown University study found increased HDL in those who ran seven miles a week or took part in four moderate 30-minute sessions of any aerobic activity.
Substantial evidence now shows that a low-fat diet often reduces — rather than increases — HDL levels. This result is not specifically caused by “not enough fat,” but rather, is caused by consuming too many carbohydrates. The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have quietly stopped recommending low-fat diets for heart disease prevention. Indeed, it is low-carb diets — and not low-fat diets — which are associated with higher HDL levels.
Along with exercising, eating a healthy diet is one of the most important things you can do to reach and maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Learn how to read nutrition labels and know the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats. Calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat numbers are all right there on the nutrition facts label to help you make heart-healthy choices.
Treatment of high cholesterol usually begins with lifestyle changes geared toward bringing levels down. These include losing weight if you’re overweight, and changing your diet to emphasize vegetables and fruits, fish, particularly cold water fish such as wild Alaskan salmon, mackerel, herring and black cod that provide heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. If lifestyle changes don’t help or if you’re unable to make the changes your doctor recommends, cholesterol-lowering drugs may be prescribed. These include statins, which effectively lower LDL cholesterol; bile acid sequestrants that may be prescribed along with statins to lower LDL; nicotinic acid to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and raise HDL; drugs called fibrates that may be prescribed to lower cholesterol and may raise HDL; and a drug called Ezetimibe to lower LDL by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine.

Substantial evidence now shows that a low-fat diet often reduces — rather than increases — HDL levels. This result is not specifically caused by “not enough fat,” but rather, is caused by consuming too many carbohydrates. The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have quietly stopped recommending low-fat diets for heart disease prevention. Indeed, it is low-carb diets — and not low-fat diets — which are associated with higher HDL levels.
Niacin is a B vitamin that your body uses to turn food into energy. It also helps keep your digestive system, nervous system, skin, hair and eyes healthy. Most people get enough niacin or B3 from their diets, but niacin is often taken in prescription-strength doses to treat low HDL levels. Niacin supplementation can can raise HDL cholesterol by more than 30 percent. (7)
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 this belief is still thought to be almost always true, in recent years a fly has been found in the ointment. Drug companies have spent billions of dollars developing drugs that increase HDL cholesterol levels. However, to the dismay of all, these drugs have failed to reduce cardiac risk—despite the fact that they make HDL levels go up. Development of at least two of these drugs has now been halted. (More on this below.) So the HDL story is more complex than scientists originally had hoped.


Olive oil is a plant-based fat, so it's a better choice when you're trying to lower your "bad" cholesterol than fats that come from animals. It’s great mixed with red wine vinegar, a minced garlic clove, and a little ground pepper for a salad dressing. For something different, try braising vegetables like carrots or leeks. Just drizzle 3 tablespoons of oil over vegetables in a snug baking dish, scatter some herbs, cover with foil, and put in a 375-degree oven for about 45 minutes.
Catapano AL, et al. 2016 ESC/EAS guidelines for the management of dyslipidaemias: The task for the management of dyslipidaemias of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) and European Atherosclerosis Society (EAS) developed with the special contribution of the European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitaiton (EACPR). Atherosclerosis. 2016;253:281.
Muscle pain, also called myopathy, occurs in 2% to 11% of people treated with statins, reported investigators at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison, and although the pain usually subsides once the statin is discontinued, it can take several months to do so. Like previous studies, the Wisconsin scientists also found that the negative side effects of statins increased as dosages increased.
In fact, moderate alcohol consumption has actually been linked with higher levels of HDL cholesterol. (6) Moderate consumption for healthy adults is one alcoholic drink per day for women of all ages and men over 65 and up to two drinks per day for mean 65 and under. Organic red wine is a smart choice, but don’t start drinking just to improve HDL levels because overdoing does much more harm than good — both for cholesterol levels and your overall health.

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.


First, a quick explainer: Cholesterol is a waxy substance that travels through your bloodstream, but not all of it is bad. HDL cholesterol (a.k.a. "good" cholesterol) actually sweeps away LDL cholesterol, or the "bad" kind. A high LDL level puts you at risk for heart attacks and strokes because it can clog arteries with plaque, a condition called atherosclerosis. A blood test can determine whether you have high cholesterol, and your doctor may recommend exercise or medication in addition to a healthier diet.


Take fish oil. Fish oil contains an abundance of essential omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s) that have been shown to lower triglyceride (blood fat) levels, minimize inflammation and clotting, and increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Research indicates that omega-3s may help reduce the risk and symptoms of a variety of disorders influenced by inflammation, including heart attack and stroke. You can add omega-3s to your diet by eating more cold water fish such as wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel and black cod. If that’s not possible, Dr. Weil recommends taking two grams daily of a fish oil supplement that contains both essential omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). When choosing a supplement, look for one derived from molecularly distilled fish oils – these are naturally high in both EPA and DHA and low in contaminants. Also choose a supplement brand that has been independently tested and guaranteed to be free of heavy metals such as mercury and lead, and other environmental toxins including polychlorinated biphenyls, also known as PCBs.
The tendency toward high cholesterol appears to be genetic although diet also influences cholesterol levels. Other factors that can influence cholesterol levels include being overweight and being physically inactive. The older you get, the more likely your cholesterol levels are to rise. Before menopause, women tend to have lower cholesterol levels than men of the same age, but after menopause, women’s LDL levels often increase.
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."

Extra pounds increase your odds of having high LDL cholesterol levels and can lead to the development of heart disease, so you shouldn’t wait to lose weight. But you don’t need to lose a lot to improve your cholesterol levels. According to Healthline, any weight loss can increase your HDL cholesterol, while decreasing LDL levels. No matter how much you want to lose, start by making small changes. Reach out to a friend when you’re upset instead of reaching for Ben & Jerry’s. Munch on fresh fruit or vegetables instead of chips or cookies. And park at the farthest spot in the parking lot to sneak in a bit more activity. All of these little changes can add up to big results.
Treatment of high cholesterol usually begins with lifestyle changes geared toward bringing levels down. These include losing weight if you’re overweight, and changing your diet to emphasize vegetables and fruits, fish, particularly cold water fish such as wild Alaskan salmon, mackerel, herring and black cod that provide heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. If lifestyle changes don’t help or if you’re unable to make the changes your doctor recommends, cholesterol-lowering drugs may be prescribed. These include statins, which effectively lower LDL cholesterol; bile acid sequestrants that may be prescribed along with statins to lower LDL; nicotinic acid to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and raise HDL; drugs called fibrates that may be prescribed to lower cholesterol and may raise HDL; and a drug called Ezetimibe to lower LDL by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the intestine.
A cup of tea does more than soothe on a stressful day. Both green and black tea can help lower cholesterol levels. Green tea is prepared from unfermented leaves and black tea from fully fermented leaves of the same plant. Researchers believe that catechins, a type of antioxidant found in tea, are responsible for its cholesterol-lowering effect. The more fermented the tea leaves, the lower the catechin content and the higher the caffeine content.

Too much cholesterol in the blood builds up on artery walls causing hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). The buildup of cholesterol narrows arteries, slowing or blocking the flow of oxygen-carrying blood to the heart, which can manifest as chest pain. If blood flow to the heart is cut off because of clogged arteries, the result is damage to the heart muscle – a heart attack.
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