Dear Dr. Donohue — Can you give me information on how to raise my HDL level?
HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol — “good” cholesterol — removes cholesterol stuck to the walls of arteries and takes it to the liver for recycling or disposal. An HDL cholesterol reading of 40 mg/dL (1.03 mmol/L) or higher is considered an acceptable level. A reading of 60 (1.55) is bliss. Actually, there is no such thing as good and bad cholesterol. Cholesterol is cholesterol. What makes it good or bad is the protein carrier that hauls it around — in this case, high-density lipoprotein.
Devoting half an hour a day to aerobic exercise drives HDL up. Aerobic exercise is an activity such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming or biking — things that raise the heart rate and keep it raised for at least 20 minutes. Weight loss is another way to increase HDL cholesterol. Including oils like olive, soy and flaxseed in your diet boosts good cholesterol. So do nuts. A modest amount of alcohol (one drink a day for women and two for men) can elevate it. Not smoking, staying away from sugary foods and not engaging in yo-yo dieting have a beneficial effect on this cholesterol variety.
Sometimes medicines are the only way to boost HDL. Statins — medicines that, it seems, the entire population takes to lower bad cholesterol — also raise good cholesterol.