As a result of all this, doctors don’t just want you to lower your total cholesterol count; they want you to change the ratio as well, so you have more HDL and less LDL. “When we looked at the data, we found that the higher your HDL went, the lower your risk of heart attack,” says cardiologist William Castelli, M.D., former director of the Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts. An HDL level of 75 or more seems to convey extra longevity for many people, while a count of 100 or more is so beneficial that it was dubbed the “Methuselah syndrome” by one researcher. HDL less than 35 or so, meanwhile, can carry significant risk of heart disease. Genetics plays a large role in HDL. A few guys have naturally low levels and need to keep their LDL low as well to make up for it. (As Castelli puts it, you don’t need a substance that removes cholesterol from your blood if you don’t have much to begin with.) But there’s plenty that everyone else can do to pump up their HDL. Never one to shirk from a task that doesn’t involve housecleaning, I managed to find two handfuls of ways to turn my “good” numbers into great numbers.
If you want to increase the benefits of the fats you eat, work out before you chow down. A study at the University of Missouri found that regular exercise prior to high-fat meals produces a large hike in HDL. I’m not suggesting that your excuse for indulging in high-fat meals ought to be a pre-meal workout, merely that exercise before a meal works to your heart’s advantage.
Why is one form of cholesterol considered good and another bad? There are actually as many as 18 kinds of cholesterol, but to save confusion, doctors divide them into two categories: LDL (bad) and HDL (good). Your liver manufactures most of your cholesterol, and small amounts of it go toward a variety of healthy purposes, including creating hormones that help turn food and exercise into muscle. Serving as cholesterol chauffeurs are fat/protein bunches called lipoproteins, and that’s where the fun begins: Low-density lipoproteins tend to deposit cholesterol on artery walls, where it builds up and eventually interferes with blood flow. But the high-density variety seems to take cholesterol back to the liver, where it can be eliminated from the body.
Can my HDL be too high? It is well known that not all cholesterol is bad for you. Of HDL and LDL cholesterol, HDL packs some great benefits. This MNT Knowledge Center article examines when high HDL cholesterol is good, and whether higher is always better? Learn how to find the right balance along with some healthful ways to achieve high HDL. Read now
Soy isoflavones significantly decreased serum total cholesterol by 0.10 mmol/L (3.9 mg/dL or 1.77%; P = 0.02) and LDL cholesterol by 0.13 mmol/L (5.0 mg/dL or 3.58%; P < 0.0001); no significant changes in HDL cholesterol and triacylglycerol were found. Isoflavone-depleted soy protein significantly decreased LDL cholesterol by 0.10 mmol/L (3.9 mg/dL or 2.77%; P = 0.03). Soy protein that contained enriched isoflavones significantly decreased LDL cholesterol by 0.18 mmol/L (7.0 mg/dL or 4.98%; P < 0.0001) and significantly increased HDL cholesterol by 0.04 mmol/L (1.6 mg/dL or 3.00%; P = 0.05). The reductions in LDL cholesterol were larger in the hypercholesterolemic subcategory than in the normocholesterolemic subcategory, but no significant linear correlations were observed between reductions and the starting values. No significant linear correlations were found between reductions in LDL cholesterol and soy protein ingestion or isoflavone intakes.
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.
And according to some powerful experiments by software engineer-turned-biohacker Dave Feldman, you can actually increase and decrease your cholesterol at will. It all depends on how much fat you eat — and, directly against mainstream dietary knowledge, the correlation is inverted. In other words, eating more fat will actually lower your cholesterol.