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How to Increase Your HDL (‘Good’) Cholesterol

How to Increase Your HDL (‘Good’) Cholesterol

When you hear the term “unhealthy cholesterol levels,” chances are you think about having high total blood cholesterol levels, or having too much “bad” LDL cholesterol. What may not immediately come to mind, however, is having low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. 

In fact, having low HDL cholesterol levels can be just as unhealthy as having high LDL or total cholesterol levels. Why? Because good cholesterol helps keep bad cholesterol in check. If you don’t have enough of the good kind, the bad kind is even more likely to get out of control.

At BodyLogicMD of Hartford in Glastonbury, Connecticut, integrative medicine specialist Anita Petruzzelli, MD, knows that when it comes to disease prevention, taking a comprehensive, holistic approach that empowers you to take charge of your health is always the best way. 

Here, Dr. Petruzzelli discusses the different types of cholesterol and explains how to naturally increase your levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol to improve your health. 

Blood cholesterol basics

Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that your body uses to build cells, synthesize vitamins, and make hormones. It plays a key role in keeping you healthy, provided you don’t have too much of the wrong kind — or too little of the right kind — circulating in your blood. 

Many factors that determine your blood cholesterol profile are controllable, including your dietary habits, level of physical activity, and body weight. Uncontrollable factors, such as older age and genetic predisposition, can also influence your cholesterol numbers. 

Bad vs. good cholesterol

To travel around your body to where it is most needed, cholesterol hitches a ride on special proteins called lipoproteins. These “fat rafts” circulate freely in your blood, and they’re classified as “bad” or “good” based on how they behave in relation to your health:

Bad cholesterol (LDL)

Most of the cholesterol in your blood is low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, an essential substance that goes from beneficial to unhealthy when there’s too much of it.

If your LDL levels are too high, your body tries to clear the excess from your blood — by storing it inside the walls of your blood vessels. As this “plaque” builds up inside your vessels over time, they can become narrower and less flexible until the blood flow is limited or completely blocked, dramatically increasing your risk for heart attack and stroke.

Good cholesterol (HDL)

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol, because it grabs excess LDL cholesterol from your blood and carries it back to your liver, where it’s processed as waste and flushed from your body. 

Because HDL cholesterol functions as a health-protecting scavenger of excess LDL blood cholesterol, having high HDL levels helps reduce the amount of LDL cholesterol that winds up on the insides of your blood vessels, effectively lowering your risk for heart attack and stroke. 

What are your numbers?

Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) using a simple blood draw and a lipid panel test. Optimal blood lipid levels are defined as:

Triglycerides are a type of blood-circulating fat that your body uses for energy. A combination of high triglycerides and high LDL cholesterol and/or low HDL cholesterol significantly raises your risk for heart attack and stroke.

Boosting your HDL levels

Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to bring your HDL levels up naturally. And, to add to this good news, employing the following strategies can also work to bring down your LDL levels. It’s a win-win!

1. Get more exercise

Regular physical activity is a potent cholesterol normalizer. Getting at least 30-60 minutes of moderately intense exercise (the kind that elevates your heart rate) most days can effectively increase your HDL levels and drop your LDL levels. Remember, any exercise is better than none at all.

2. Lose excess weight

If you’re overweight, losing just 5-10% of your body weight can raise your HDL levels — and help improve your blood sugar and blood pressure levels, too. If you’re not sure where to start, we can create a custom weight loss plan that supports you every step of the way. 

3. Clean up your diet

Establish heart-healthy eating patterns. Limiting your intake of saturated fats — which are fats that are found in meat, dairy, baked goods, fried foods, and highly processed foods — can lower your LDL levels. To actively boost your HDL levels at the same time, replace refined carbs (white bread, pasta, desserts) with whole grains (whole-grain bread, quinoa), and stick to lean proteins and healthy fats. 

4. Kick the worst habit

Tobacco use drops your HDL levels. If you smoke cigarettes, research clearly shows that kicking the habit can boost your HDL levels significantly — and the change happens rapidly following smoking cessation. 

Take charge of your health 

Whether you’d like to learn effective lifestyle strategies for controlling cholesterol or schedule your next blood lipid check, we can help. To get the care you need, call 860-341-1205 or book an appointment online with BodyLogicMD of Hartford today.

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