What is the difference between HDL and LDL cholesterol? The body needs cholesterol, but too much bad cholesterol can be harmful and is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. In this article, learn about the difference between HDL and LDL — “good” and “bad” — cholesterol, as well as how they are measured. What steps can you take to lower LDL and increase HDL? Read now
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.

While the world of wellness endlessly touts of benefits of anti-inflammatory foods, who knew eating these could kill two birds with one stone by also improving your cholesterol? Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, the phytochemical that gives this berry its dark blue pigment and are essential to overall heart health through enhancing anti-inflammatory pathways as well as increasing HDL cholesterol levels, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. One 2013 study found that consuming blueberries in tandem with exercise can increase HDL levels even more than exercise alone.
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.
DAVID MONTGOMERY: The ways to reduce your bad cholesterol have a lot to do with your lifestyle. So your diet is really important. And although this kind of sounds trite, really one of the best and most effective ways to reduce cholesterol is by having a low fat diet, particularly saturated fat. We find saturated fat in eggs, dairy, and red meat. If you're able to reduce those, you reduce your bad fat, which reduces your bad cholesterol. Another really effective way that I use with my patients all the time to reduce your cholesterol is regular exercise. If you're doing aerobic type exercises, most days a week, four days a week, 30 minutes at a time, then you're doing your body the best amount of good, not just from lowering your cholesterol standpoint, but from so many different ways. There are other ways that we can reduce the fat. It may have to do with supplementations or medications. In some people, they are born with genetic conditions that predispose them to have very, very high cholesterol. And as a result of that, they have different problems like heart attacks or strokes. In those people, they really do benefit from cholesterol lowering drugs. But there are other things that you can get from over-the-counter, like omega fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids in particular. They come in krill oil or fish oil. We've all heard of these before. And those help reduce parts of your cholesterol.
Foods high in monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil, nuts, and the oils in many salad dressings) seem to boost HDL best; it’s likely that foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (such as cold-water fish) do so as well. Saturated fats, the kind in meat and dairy foods, are likely to drive up harmful LDL, so take this opportunity to cut way back. Worst of all are trans-fatty acids, the hardened oils often found in margarine, crackers and other snack foods-a substance Harvard Medical School nutrition expert Walter C. Willett, M.D., author of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, calls “uniquely bad.” These foods can do exactly the opposite of what you want, lowering HDL while raising LDL.
Trans fatty acids are likely present in many of your favorite prepared foods— anything in which the nutrition label reads "partially hydrogenated vegetable oils" — so eliminating them from the diet is not a trivial task. But trans fatty acids not only increase LDL cholesterol levels, but they also reduce HDL cholesterol levels. Removing them from your diet will almost certainly result in a measurable increase in HDL levels. 
George T Griffing, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Society for Clinical Densitometry, Southern Society for Clinical Investigation, American College of Medical Practice Executives, American Association for Physician Leadership, American College of Physicians, American Diabetes Association, American Federation for Medical Research, American Heart Association, Central Society for Clinical and Translational Research, Endocrine Society
Avoid trans-fatty acids. These heart-damaging fats can reduce HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels and raise levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. The tip-off that trans-fatty acids are present in foods is the listing of “partially hydrogenated oil” on a food’s ingredient list. Trans-fats are found in many brands of margarine and in most heavily processed foods, as well as in snack foods such as chips, crackers and cookies, and in the oils used to cook fast-food French fries, doughnuts and movie popcorn.
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.
Could one of your current prescriptions be a cause of your low HDL levels? Possibly! Medications such as anabolic steroids, beta blockers, benzodiazepines and progestins can depress HDL levels. If you take any of these medications, I suggest talking to your doctor and considering if there is anything you can do that could take the place of your current prescription.
Besides putting your heart health at risk, sugar is also known to be one of the most significant contributors to metabolic syndrome. In fact, the recent 2015 Dietary Guidelines labeled sugar as a “nutrient of concern” and voiced recommendations for added sugars to not exceed greater than 10% of total daily calories. So, if your goal is to nip sugar in the bud and increase your HDL cholesterol levels, start by evaluating your libations.
However, environmental factors also have a significant impact on HDL levels. Factors that elevate HDL concentrations include chronic alcoholism, treatment with oral estrogen replacement therapy, extensive aerobic exercise, and treatment with niacin, statins, or fibrates. [11, 12, 13] On the other hand, smoking reduces levels of HDL-C, while quitting smoking leads to a rise in the plasma HDL level.
About 80 percent of calories in nuts come from fat, but it's healthy unsaturated fat, not the artery-clogging kind. Nuts also are high in plant sterols, substances that block the absorption of cholesterol. Given these advantages, nuts are a natural for a heart-healthy diet. About an ounce and a half to two ounces a day should do it. Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and pistachios all confer benefits. So do peanuts, although they're technically a legume and not a nut.
Research shows that there isn't really a link between how much fat you eat and your risk of disease. The biggest influence on your risk is the type of fat you eat. Two unhealthy fats, including saturated and trans fats, increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood cholesterol and increase your risk of developing heart disease. However, two very different types of fat — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — do just the opposite. In fact, research shows that cutting back on saturated fat and replacing it with mono and polyunsaturated fats can help lower the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood.
How much do you know about your cholesterol? You probably know that there are two different kinds – high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is the “good” cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as the “bad” cholesterol. High HDL levels help carry cholesterol from your arteries to your liver and also possess antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, which are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.
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]
Coronary heart disease: What you need to know The coronary arteries supply oxygen and blood to the heart. They can narrow, often because cholesterol accumulates on the arteries’ walls. This results in coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease in the U.S. Here, learn about risk factors, early warning signs, means of prevention, and treatments. Read now
HDL levels below 40 mg/dL are associated with an increased risk of CAD, even in people whose total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels are normal. HDL levels between 40 and 60 mg/dL are considered "normal," and do not very much affect the risk of CAD one way or the other. However, HDL levels greater than 60 mg/dL are actually associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
Although this breakfast choice may not satisfy your kid (or your kid-at-heart), high fiber cereals are an easy way to improve your cholesterol profile. An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that high fiber oat cereals lower LDL particle number without decreasing HDL concentrations, thus improving your ratio and giving HDL levels a percentage increase. Look for a product with a minimal amount of sugar and at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. A great oat-based choice is Barbara’s Morning Oat Crunch, which has 5 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein per cup.

Chocolate fans rejoice! You might have heard that chocolate is good for you, and it's true. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain powerful antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, which help lower cholesterol. Milk chocolate has less cocoa solids, and thus lower flavonoid levels, and white chocolate is even lower in the good stuff. Reach for small portions of dark chocolate, preferably with a high cocoa content. Or try a sprinkle of cocoa powder in your smoothie or on yogurt to reap chocolate's cholesterol-lowering benefits.
Hayek T, Chajek-Shaul T, Walsh A, Agellon LB, Moulin P, Tall AR, Breslow JL. An interaction between the human cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) and apolipoprotein A-I genes in transgenic mice results in a profound CETP-mediated depression of high density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. J Clin Invest. 1992 Aug;90(2):505–510. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
Foods high in monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil, nuts, and the oils in many salad dressings) seem to boost HDL best; it’s likely that foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (such as cold-water fish) do so as well. Saturated fats, the kind in meat and dairy foods, are likely to drive up harmful LDL, so take this opportunity to cut way back. Worst of all are trans-fatty acids, the hardened oils often found in margarine, crackers and other snack foods-a substance Harvard Medical School nutrition expert Walter C. Willett, M.D., author of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, calls “uniquely bad.” These foods can do exactly the opposite of what you want, lowering HDL while raising LDL.
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]
However, although low levels of HDL predict increased cardiovascular risk, particularly in healthy individuals with no history of cardiovascular events, the relationship between HDL and CHD risk is complex, with HDL-C and cardiovascular disease having a nonlinear relationship. For example, research found that HDL levels above approximately 60 mg/dL showed no further improvement in prognosis, and the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition)-Norfolk and IDEAL (Incremental Decrease in End Points through Aggressive Lipid Lowering) studies showed that very high levels of HDL may actually be associated with an increased risk of atherosclerotic disease. [5, 6, 2]
Chocolate fans rejoice! You might have heard that chocolate is good for you, and it's true. Dark chocolate and cocoa powder contain powerful antioxidant compounds called flavonoids, which help lower cholesterol. Milk chocolate has less cocoa solids, and thus lower flavonoid levels, and white chocolate is even lower in the good stuff. Reach for small portions of dark chocolate, preferably with a high cocoa content. Or try a sprinkle of cocoa powder in your smoothie or on yogurt to reap chocolate's cholesterol-lowering benefits.
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.
A: Before I answer that question, why bother to increase HDL cholesterol at all? Many studies have found that people with low levels of HDL are at increased risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other complications of arteries diseased by atherosclerosis: that's why we call HDL the "good" cholesterol. Given that, you'd think that raising HDL levels would reduce a person's risk for atherosclerosis. Unfortunately, despite a lot of research, we don't yet know if that's true, nor how best to raise HDL levels.
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.
Avocados are an excellent source of monounsaturated fatty acids, which boost HDL and lower LDL. In a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, eating one avocado a day while following a moderate-fat diet was associated with a 13.5 mg/dL drop in bad cholesterol, or LDL, levels. Several other blood measurements were also improved in the participants who consumed an avocado a day, including total cholesterol, triglycerides, small dense LDL, non-HDL cholesterol, and others. 
If you smoke, it’s time to pack it in. According to the American Heart Association, smoking reduces your HDL cholesterol levels, while increasing your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. If you’re a smoker, you need to quit. Once you stop smoking, you can significantly improve your HDL cholesterol level very quickly and start protecting your heart. And if you’re a non-smoker, you need to avoid exposure to second-hand smoke to prevent your health from going up in smoke.
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.
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)
Eating walnuts regularly was linked with a reduced risk of heart disease, according to data from the Nurses' Health Study. Eating as little as one serving of these nuts each week can lower your chances of cardiovascular disease by up to 19%! Consider swapping walnuts for croutons in salads and soups; add ‘em to breakfast cereal or yogurt; or nosh on walnuts with fruit to reap the cholesterol-lowering benefits.

Furthermore, in epidemiological studies involving over 100,000 individuals, people whose HDL cholesterol levels are below about 40 mg/dL had a substantially higher cardiac risk than those with higher HDL levels. This is the case even when LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) levels are low. Higher HDL levels have also been associated with a reduced risk of breast, colon and lung cancer.


Pick Purple Produce – Did you know that eating purple-colored vegetables and fruits can potentially increase your HDL cholesterol? That’s because these specific foods contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which have been shown to help fight inflammation and protect your cells from free radicals. When you can, fill up your plate with purple produce like eggplant, purple corn, red cabbage, blueberries, blackberries, and black raspberries.

If you’re getting worked up over high cholesterol, then start working out. Daily exercise can help raise your HDL cholesterol levels and reduce your LDL cholesterol, while protecting you from many health conditions. Begin by choosing an activity that sounds like fun to avoid “workout burn-out.” Consider jogging, brisk walking, cycling, tennis, swimming or hitting the gym. Find an exercise partner to make the activity more enjoyable and help you stay on track. And while exercise can lower your cholesterol, it can also reduce your stress and anxiety. So working up a sweat can also save you from sweating the small stuff.
Other supplements that have been suggested for cholesterol have less evidence of being useful. In the case of red yeast rice, there is a potential danger because it contains a naturally-occurring form of lovastatin, a prescription drug. Garlic has now been shown to be ineffective for lowering cholesterol. Other supplements and food you may see touted include policosanol, coenzyme Q10, green tea, and soy.

HDL serves as a chemical shuttle that transports excess cholesterol from peripheral tissues to the liver. This pathway is called the RCT system. In this system, plasma HDL takes up cholesterol from the peripheral tissues, such as fibroblasts and macrophages. (A study by El Khoury et al indicated that in persons with HALP, macrophages have an increased plasma cholesterol efflux capacity. [18] ) This may occur by passive diffusion or may be mediated by the adenosine triphosphate (ATP)–binding cassette transporter 1. The latter interacts directly with free apo A-I, generating nascent, or so-called discoidal, HDL. Cholesterol undergoes esterification by lecithin-cholesterol acyltransferase (LCAT) to produce cholesteryl ester, which results in the production of the mature spherical HDL. Cholesterol is also taken up from triglyceride-rich lipoproteins in a process mediated by a phospholipid transfer protein (ie, CETP). [19, 20, 21, 22]

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