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How can I raise my good cholesterol level?

Question: How can I raise my good cholesterol level?

Hoist up the HDL! Incredibly easy ways to help increase your army of good cholesterol

As in virtually every story ever told, an age-old tale of good vs. evil rages in our blood cholesterol. The bad cholesterol is what is known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL). These clog up the arteries and can lead to a heart attack or stroke.But not all is lost. Keeping these bad boys in check is the good cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is believed to remove excess LDL from arterial plaque, slowing its buildup. Thus, increasing your HDL levels (to at least greater than 40 mg/dL but preferably greater than 60 mg/dL) will help lower your risk of heart disease and lead to a longer, richer life.

So just how do you give these good guys a boost? While certain prescription drugs such as niacin, fibrates, and statins have proven effective, other natural methods that involve simple lifestyle changes have also been show to dramatically raise HDL levels.

Stop smoking. Quitting smoking has been shown by experts to result in an average increase in HDL levels of 4 mg/dL, or up to 10%. This, of course, is easier said than done. If you are having trouble quitting, consult with your doctor to learn about the options available to you.

Exercise. Keeping those muscles pumping also helps pump up the HDL by about 5% in otherwise healthy inactive adults. Researchers in Japan revealed that “exercisers increased their HDL cholesterol by a modest but significant 2.53 mg/dL, which equates to a roughly 5% drop in heart disease risk for men and a nearly 8% reduction for women.” Brisk aerobic exercise for 30 minutes several times per week, if not every day, is the recommended form and frequency. Examples of brisk exercise include running, jogging, bicycling, swimming, or playing basketball. However, household chores that raise your heart rate, such as sweeping the floors and vacuuming the carpets, are valid methods as well.

Lose weight. Obese individuals have been found to have lower levels of HDL compared to their non-obese counterparts. HDL levels decrease close to 1 mg/dL for every 1 kg/ m2 increase in body mass index. On the flipside, every 3 kilograms of weight lost raises a patient’s HDL levels by an average of 1 mg/dL. Thus, weight loss is critical in keeping your HDL levels optimal.

Eat a healthy diet. A diet low in saturated and trans fat and rich in the polyunsaturated fatty acids found in foods such as vegetable oils (olive, canola, soy and flaxseed), nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts and pecans), cold-water fish (salmon and mackerel) and shellfish, is recommended. High glycemic products, such as processed cereals and breads, are associated with lower HDL levels and should be restricted.

Regulate intake of alcohol. Drinking no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women and everyone over age 65 has been shown to raise HDL levels by an average of 4 mg/dL, irrespective of type of alcohol consumed. But in people with liver or addiction problems, the potential risks may outweigh this benefit. Thus, the folks at the Mayo Clinic stress that “If you don’t drink alcohol, don’t start just to try raising your HDL levels.”

With every bite, every sip, every pound, every step, and every puff, the battle between the good and bad cholesterol rages on. The stakes are high – it’s your health, your very life, on the line. Whose side are you working for?

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