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Easy Habits That Raise Your "Good" Cholesterol

Experts explain what to know about good cholesterol and how to get it. 
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

High cholesterol is often called the 'silent killer' because there's no symptoms, but it can greatly increase the risk of major health issues like stroke and heart attack if not managed. "Cholesterol is a fat – like substance that is part of the body's cell membranes and hormones. Cholesterol in the blood comes from 2 sources; the food you've eaten and the liver manufacturing it," Dr. Theodore Strange, Chair of Medicine at Staten Island University Hospital tells Eat This, Not That! Health. Poor diet and a lack of exercise contribute to high cholesterol and Dr. Robert Greenfield, MD, double board certified cardiologist and lipidologist and Emeritus Lipid Consultant at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley CA shares "As I always tell my patients: Think about your car. You put the proper fuel into it to run properly, so why can't we put the proper foods (our fuel) into our own bodies? If we let the car sit in a garage and never drive it, it will age prematurely and malfunction when we are finally ready to use it. The same goes for a sedentary lifestyle.  Let's treat our possessions with respect and not forget that  our most valuable possession is our body." So how do you get good cholesterol? Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What is Good Cholesterol and Why Is It Important?

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Paula Doebrich, RDN, MPH with Happea Nutrition says, "HLD cholesterol is short for high density lipoprotein. This is also known as good cholesterol. It is called good because it helps to remove excess cholesterol from our body. It absorbs it through a mechanism during which any excess cholesterol in the body is picked up and then carried to the liver for excretion."

Dr. Greenfield adds, "HDL-cholesterol is the "good" cholesterol because it has the potential to do good things. For one, it can pick up cholesterol from the blood and blood vessels and carry it to the liver so the liver can use that cholesterol to make bile, Vitamin  D and other necessary products that we need to live. It also carries cholesterol to the gonads and adrenal glands so they can synthesize hormones. And if that wasn't enough, HDL may help with our immunity and help us to fight infections. On the other hand, LDL-cholesterol is the bad cholesterol because it tends to deposit in arteries and is a major determinant of plaque formation which clogs and narrows arteries. It is also inflammatory so it can cause plaque build-up in our arteries to become unstable and rupture or erode to cause heart attacks and strokes.

Here's a simple way of thinking about these two lipoproteins ( HDL and LDL): HDL is the sanitation truck that picks up the garbage, and the garbage is the LDL  We do need triglycerides because they are energy packets that travel in our blood and our delivered to our muscles as an energy source which allow us to move. Our problem today is when in excess, these excess triglycerides are stored for later use in fat cells. As we become more sedentary and tend to eat too much, we have an overabundance of triglycerides where our fat cells get fatter! Triglycerides come from saturated fats and simple carbohydrates and sweets in the diet. They are particularly troublesome in patients with type 2 diabetes. They also play dirty tricks on their neighbors, HDL and LDL,  as they decrease HDL in the blood and they make the LDL particles smaller and more dense so they can more easily penetrate the blood vessel wall and accelerates atherosclerosis or "hardening" of the arteries."

2

Range Good Cholesterol Should Be In

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Doebrich says, "Men should have a level of at least 45mg/dL and the recommendation for women is 60mg/dL or more. For both men and women the "desirable" level is 60 mg/dL."

Dr. Greenfield adds, "For HDL, well you want it to be normal and it seems the "sweet spot" for HDL is between 60-80 . It is at times possible to raise the HDL just by lowering triglycerides, eating the good fats found in fish (above), exercising and losing weight if one is too heavy. Yes, alcohol can raise HDL as well but we don't advocate alcohol as a therapy!!"

3

Dash Mediterranean Diets

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Dr. Greenfield shares, "I recommend both the DASH and Mediterranean diets as they stress the ingestion of fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts and plenty of water. And although diet is necessary, it is not always sufficient as many cholesterol problems run in families and are genetically determined. These situations are fairly common and a prescription for statins can be very helpful. When they are given in the correct doses and individualized based on the patient's needs, they are well tolerated. The newer injectables given once or twice a month have been given to patients when statins weren't enough. Although the new kids on the block , they have already demonstrated their ability to reduce heart attack and strokes as well as admission to the hospital for unstable situations."

4

Incorporate Omega-3 Fatty Acids into Your Diet

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According to Doebrich, "Omega 3 fatty acids help lower heart disease risk overall. They are also anti-inflammatory and might protect against many other chronic diseases. When you swap most of your fats for healthy fats you will reduce intake of unhealthy fats, without feeling deprived. The best way to add omega-3 fatty acids to your diet is eating seafood, especially fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, or sardines at least twice a week." 

Dr. Strange states, "Dietary supplements like omega 3 fatty acids (fish oil) or increase fish intake like salmon, using more olive oil, less monounsaturated fat intake (Red meats), and Legumes such as beans."

5

Vitamin B, Especially Niacin

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"The B-vitamin can help raise HDL cholesterol by up to 25 percent, While the vitamin alone may not lower risk of cardiovascular disease, getting plenty of it in your diet will certainly help maintain heart health long-term. It is found in many healthy foods such as beans and legumes, fish, poultry, brown rice, or fortified cereals," says Doebrich.

Sarah Anderson, a cardiology and functional medicine nurse practitioner with Peak Integrative Wellness adds, "Consider taking niacin (vitamin B3) supplement.  It can help increase HDL levels modestly, but has fallen out of favor due to the common side effect of "niacin flushing".  Taking it with food or before bedtime.  Taking an aspirin 30 mins prior can help as well, but be sure to check with your healthcare provider before taking daily aspirin because it can increase the risk of bleeding problems." 

6

Eat More Fiber

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Doebrich states, "Fiber, especially soluble fiber, helps transport bad cholesterol out of the body. While fiber is mostly known for lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol, one study found that high fiber intake could result in as much as 10% increase in HDL cholesterol levels." 

7

Walking

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Dr. Greenfield says, "Walking and exercise in general does burn calories and may cause a reduction in weight which in turn could lower the LDL and triglycerides and increase the HDL. However, exercise is not a very efficient way to lower your lipids (cholesterol). The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology advocate 150 min/week of moderately vigorous exercise. That would be 30 min 5 times per week."

"Moderate exercise can help increase HDL cholesterol. For best results, it is recommended to incorporate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise," adds Doebrich.

8

Quit Smoking

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Doebrich emphasizes, "Smoking is never recommended but when it comes to HDL cholesterol, it is worth mentioning that both smoking and vaping could decrease HDL levels. Smoking is linked to higher risk of heart disease and high blood pressure."

Anderson says, "Tobacco raises LDL (bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL (good cholesterol) levels." 

9

Eat Whole Grains Instead of Refined/Processed

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Lisa Richards, a nutritionist and author of the Candida Diet explains, "Whole grains contain fiber, which works to lower your LDL cholesterol by removing it from the body. In turn your HDL cholesterol will rise in percentage compared to your LDL. The higher the percentage the more cardioprotective your cholesterol will be." 

10

Eat Purple Foods

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Dr. Monisha Bhanote, MD, FCAP, ABOIM explains, "Blueberries, eggplant, and cabbage contain anthocyanin, which helps fight inflammation, protects cells from free radical damage and raises HDL cholesterol."

11

Limit Your Alcohol Intake

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Dr. Strange says, "Minimal to moderate alcohol use if drink or not drink at all. Limiting alcohol intake to at least moderate or less helps the liver and processing of cholesterol." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more