HDL plays an important role in transporting cholesterol from the peripheral tissues to the liver, where it can be excreted; this process is known as reverse cholesterol transport (RCT). (The liver is the main organ for excretion of cholesterol, doing so either directly or by converting cholesterol into bile acids.) It is important to remember that most HDL measured in the blood is derived from the liver and intestine. Therefore, the concentration of HDL in plasma does not reflect cholesterol efflux from blood vessels or the efficiency of RCT. Moreover, HDL function in RCT is not mirrored by HDL measurements. [2]
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.

Altering your diet is the easiest way to lower your elevated LDL cholesterol, and should be your first course of action, as every cholesterol-lowering strategy starts with your dietary habits. A balanced diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and various plants will significantly help you lower your LDL cholesterol level. It’s best to limit the amount of red meat, eggs, and dairy you consume. Plant-based diets not only help lower your LDL, but they can also help clear plaque buildup from your arteries.
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.
Before you begin dramatically changing your diet or taking any supplements, you should talk with your doctor and dietitian. Food is an outstanding and all-natural way to deliver more heart-healthy vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to your body. However, certain foods and supplements are off-limits because of their possible interactions with medications or prescriptions.
Niacin can be taken at lower doses rather than prescription levels, but supplementation can cause unwanted niacin side effects, especially when taking at high dosages. Some negative results of taking niacin include experience flushing, an uncomfortable feeling of heat, itching or tingling in the skin. Other side effects can include gastrointestinal, muscle and liver problems.
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.

Barley, oatmeal and brown rice have lots of soluble fiber, which has been proven to lower LDL cholesterol by reducing the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Try switching out your regular pasta for the whole-grain version, or use brown rice instead of white. To give an added cholesterol-busting kick, top your morning oatmeal with high-fiber fruit like bananas or apples.
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.
Black beans, kidney beans, lentils, oh my! All are rich in soluble fiber, which binds to cholesterol in the blood and moves it out of the body. Recent studies show eating 4.5 ounces of beans a day can reduce LDL levels by 5 percent. Try black bean burritos, or dip some veggies in hummus, which is made with chickpeas, for an afternoon snack. Or try this Caramelized Onion and White Bean Flatbread -- beans are so versatile, the possibilities are endless.

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.
According to the Mayo Clinic, ideal HDL levels for both men and women are 60 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood. If a man’s HDL level is below 40 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood or a woman’s HDL level is below 50 milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood, then disease risk, specifically heart disease, is considered to be heightened. Even if your HDL level is above the at-risk number (but below the desirable number), you still want to work on increasing your HDL level so you can decrease your heart disease risk. (9)

I just moved and had to go to a new doctor. At my first annual exam and lipid panel, she called me back for a consult because she wanted to put me on a statin due to “high” ldl cholestoral levels. I am female, 54, height 5’4” and weigh 130 lbs. My ldl was 123 – my triglycerides were 58. My hdl was 68. I had basically the same lipid panel 2 years ago at my last annual exam (before moving) and my doc there was not concerned other than suggesting I start a CoQ10 and Omega 3 regimen. I don’t smoke, I exercise at least 45 minutes a day (running, cycling, golf, walking, etc.) – my major weakness is sweets. Plus no heart disease in immediate family (both parents still alive at 79 & 80 – no history of stroke, etc.)
Because increasing HDL levels is thought to be such a beneficial thing, and because there is no easy or reliable way to do so, developing drugs that substantially raise HDL levels has become a major goal for several pharmaceutical companies. And indeed, several of these drugs have been developed, and have led to clinical trials to demonstrate their safety and efficacy.
Perhaps most disappointing of all, a new class of drugs (the so-called CETP-inhibitors), which several pharmaceutical companies have been enthusiastically developing for several years to raise HDL levels, has become a great disappointment. While these drugs do indeed increase HDL levels, they have not demonstrated an ability to improve cardiac risk — and on the contrary, studies appear to show a worsening in cardiac risk with some of these drugs. It is unclear today whether any CETP-inhibitors will ever reach the market.

No, carbohydrates are not the enemy to fitness goals. Plus, when it comes to heart health, oatmeal is a humble workhorse. One of the highest fiber-per-dollar foods on the market, oatmeal is an inexpensive and hearty addition to any breakfast time routine. While not raising HDL levels directly, oatmeal lowers total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels even more, according to an American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine review, which in turn increases your HDL levels as a percentage of total cholesterol. Make weekend brunch fun for the whole family by serving up an oatmeal bar concept with a wide array of toppings and mix-ins such as chia seeds and raspberries.
Aside from the inconvenience of taking niacin, two recent, highly-anticipated clinical trials have suggested that raising HDL levels with niacin failed to demonstrate any improvement in cardiovascular outcomes. Furthermore, treatment with niacin was associated with an increased risk of stroke and increased diabetic complications. At this point, most doctors are very reluctant to prescribe niacin therapy for the purpose of raising HDL levels.
Lose Some Weight – Those who are overweight or obese will increase their HDL cholesterol levels when they lose weight (along with experiencing a myriad of other amazing health benefits). There’s no magic diet pill you need to take to make this happen. In order to achieve weight loss, simply count your calories, restrict your carbohydrate and sugar intake, eat more vegetables and fruits, and begin exercising. Not only will you lower your LDL cholesterol, but you will also feel more energetic and happier!
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.
Fish can be fatty or lean, but it’s still low in saturated fat. Eat at least 8 ounces of non-fried fish each week, which may be divided over two 3.5- to 4-ounce servings. Choose oily fish such as salmon, trout and herring, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Prepare fish baked, broiled, grilled or boiled rather than breaded and fried, and without added salt, saturated fat or trans fat. Non-fried fish and shellfish, such as shrimp, crab and lobster, are low in saturated fat and are a healthy alternative to many cuts of meat and poultry.
Because increasing HDL levels is thought to be such a beneficial thing, and because there is no easy or reliable way to do so, developing drugs that substantially raise HDL levels has become a major goal for several pharmaceutical companies. And indeed, several of these drugs have been developed, and have led to clinical trials to demonstrate their safety and efficacy.
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.

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.
Ground-breaking research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) studied nearly 9,000 European patients. All had previously suffered heart attacks. The trial found that those who reduced their LDL levels to an average 81 with high-dose statins significantly reduced their risk of major coronary events like heart attacks and strokes at the 4.8 year follow-up compared to patients who reduced their LDL to 104 on usual-dose statin therapy.
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?!
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