When it comes to cholesterol, not all types are created equal, and it is important to understand how lifestyle choices significantly impact cardiovascular health. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as the “healthy” or “good” type of cholesterol due to the fact that it scavenges and removes the “bad” type of cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) known to clog arteries. A desirable HDL level is anything greater than 60 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

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.


Niacin (vitamin B3) is believed to block cholesterol production in the body. Although niacin in prescription supplement form appears to be most effective in increasing HDL, it may have side effects such as flushing, itching, and headache, so you may want to consider adding niacin-containing foods to your diet first. Niacin is found in high concentrations in crimini mushrooms, chicken breast, halibut, tomato, romaine lettuce, enriched bread, and cereals.
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.
Including fish in your diet can increase HDL cholesterol in a short period of time. In a study published in February 2014 in the journal PLoS One, researchers concluded that a diet rich in foods including fish showed an increase in the size of HDL particles in the body, which could help improve cholesterol transport through the body. The researchers saw the positive effects of a diet that included fish in as little as 12 weeks.
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]

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.
Once you know your cholesterol levels, it’s time to discuss a plan with your doctor. Although changing your lifestyle to include a heart-healthy diet and plenty of exercise is usually the first step to lower cholesterol, some types of cholesterol problems like familial hypercholesterolemia may require medication right away. Work with your doctor to come up with the best cholesterol goals for you and the best ways to get there.
Swap extra-virgin olive oil for all your other oils and fats when cooking at low temperatures, since extra-virgin olive oil breaks down at high temperatures. Use the oil in salad dressings, sauces, and to flavor foods once they’re cooked. Sprinkle chopped olives on salads or add them to soups, like in this Sicilian fish soup. Just be sure to use extra-virgin olive oil in moderation, since it’s high in calories.

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.
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.
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]
Controlling your weight is an important part of getting to healthy cholesterol levels, so it’s crucial to know your portion sizes if you're trying to lower cholesterol. A portion of starchy carbohydrate, like potato or pasta, should be only about half the size of a baseball. A heart-healthy portion of meat should be about the size of a deck of playing cards, or about three ounces.
HDL’s unpredictable actions are one of the reasons why lowering LDL cholesterol often gets more focus as primary defense against heart disease and stroke. However, the medical world, both conventional and holistic, still agrees that raising low HDL is a very smart health move because low HDL cholesterol can be more dangerous than high LDL cholesterol. (8)

HDL is actually more complex than we once thought. Rather than being a single kind of particle, HDL is is now considered a family of different particles. All HDL contains lipids (fats), cholesterol and proteins (called apolipoproteins), but some types of HDL are spherical while others are shaped like a doughnut. Some HDL types remove bad cholesterol from the blood while other types are indifferent to cholesterol. Or even worse, some HDL transfers cholesterol the wrong way (into LDL and cells) or protects LDL in a way that makes it more harmful to the arteries.

Controlling your weight is an important part of getting to healthy cholesterol levels, so it’s crucial to know your portion sizes if you're trying to lower cholesterol. A portion of starchy carbohydrate, like potato or pasta, should be only about half the size of a baseball. A heart-healthy portion of meat should be about the size of a deck of playing cards, or about three ounces.

With apologies to the American Heart Association, which discourages doctors from telling their patients about the advantages of alcohol: one or two drinks per day can significantly increase HDL levels. More than one or two drinks per day, one hastens to add, can lead to substantial health problems including heart failure. And unfortunately, there are many people who are simply incapable of limiting their alcohol intake to one or two drinks per day. Here's more on alcohol and the heart.


Sugar and spice and everything nice… except for the fact that recent data has shown that added sugar is not so nice for our cardiovascular health or waistlines. In fact, a study published in Circulation found that people with the highest consumption of added sugars show significantly lower HDL levels. To cut back on your added sugar intake and increase HDL levels, consider replacing sugar with dates when you’re making baked goods like homemade granola bars, cookies, and cakes. It’s one way to slice total added sugars in half and will also give your sweet treat extra fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Stick to a Low-Carb Diet – Also known as a ketogenic diet, a low-carb diet can lead to several health benefits, including weight loss, reduced blood sugar levels, and, of course, an increase in your HDL cholesterol. This is great for those who suffer from diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or obesity, but in truth, anyone can benefit from this type of diet!


Catapano AL, et al. 2016 ESC/EAS guidelines for the management of dyslipidaemias: The task for the management of dyslipidaemias of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) and European Atherosclerosis Society (EAS) developed with the special contribution of the European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitaiton (EACPR). Atherosclerosis. 2016;253:281.

Try to eat it two to four times a week. “Not only are the omega-3 fats in fish heart-healthy, but replacing red meat with fish will lower your cholesterol by reducing your exposure to saturated fats, which are abundant in red meat,” Samaan says. The catch? Some types, like shark, swordfish, and king mackerel, are high in mercury. That can increase your risk for heart disease. Instead, choose wild salmon, sardines, and bluefin tuna.


Oatmeal is one of the best cholesterol-fighting foods because it is so high in beta-glucans, the soluble fibers that cause oats to bulk up in liquid when you make oatmeal. Soluble fiber lowers your LDL, or "bad," cholesterol by forming a sticky layer in the small intestine that blocks cholesterol from entering your bloodstream. Make oatmeal and skip the instant packs with lots of added sugar. (In a rush? See our picks for best instant oatmeals.) Add fruit to your oatmeal to naturally sweeten it and boost the soluble fiber content even more.
Pasta and heart health together in one sentence seems to be an oxymoron, however with one small tweak spaghetti can become a cholesterol-busting meal. Instead of opting for white, refined noodles, choose the less-processed, vitamin-enriched counterpart: whole grain pasta. Barilla makes one that has 7 grams of fiber per serving, and — what’s more — none of the stress-fighting B-vitamins have been removed. A B vitamin known as niacin has been found to decrease LDL levels and increase HDL when taken in doses above your vitamin requirement, according to a guide to lowering your cholesterol by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
An under-valued element of bone and cardiovascular health is the role of Vitamin K2, which many individuals are unknowingly deficient in. Found in the Japanese breakfast delicacy “natto” (fermented soybeans), vitamin K2 not only helps remove calcium from the arteries and soft tissues to prevent atherosclerosis, but it also draws calcium into the bones to prevent the risk of fracture. Nattokinase, an enzyme found in natto, may help to increase HDL levels while lowering total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, according to an Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition study.
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.
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.)
If you’re one of the 73.5 million Americans who have unhealthy cholesterol levels, heart-healthy lifestyle changes are important ways to improve your cholesterol and prevent it from getting progressively worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fewer than half of people with high LDL cholesterol (the type of cholesterol that puts you at risk for heart disease) are getting treated, and not even one in three have their high cholesterol under control.
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.
My Dr has ldl normal range as 50-100. I wish I had your ldl. I have a family history w Mom for higher cholesterol. No clue what my dads was. I think I would get another Dr opinion bc what dr tells me for my numbers compared to yours, he would probably praise you. Don’t get sucked into one dr trying to put you on statins w those numbers. Statins have their negative side for you too. I know it’s only my opinion but with your numbers, I think your doing great!
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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