what is HDL cholesterol

What is HDL Cholesterol?

If you’ve had a blood sample drawn to assess your lipid profile then you already know your cholesterol level. If it’s high, then your doctor may have advised you to take steps to lower it.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is naturally produced in the body, although a lot of the foods we eat also contain it. This substance actually has several functions, not the least of which is to help build the cells in the body. Cholesterol is carried through the bloodstream by attaching to proteins known as lipoproteins. Good cholesterol is your high density lipoprotein (HDL) while the bad cholesterol is the low density lipoprotein (LDL).

HDL Cholesterol Overview

HDL lipoproteins are frequently referred to as good cholesterol. They are cholesterol scavengers that pick up any excess cholesterol in the blood and bring them to the liver where they are metabolized/broken down. Meanwhile, the LDL lipoproteins carry cholesterol to the organs and tissues, and any excess is circulated in the blood where they eventually block blood vessel walls and clog them. Plaques will then narrow these blood vessels, preventing blood to flow and causing coronary artery disease.

Lowering LDL Cholesterol Is Not Enough

If your cholesterol level is above the ideal range, lowering your LDL cholesterol is not enough. You also need to raise your HDL cholesterol to reduce your risk of heart disease. For women and men, the target HDL cholesterol level should be 60mg/dL or higher.

Here are some ways you can boost your HDL cholesterol:

1. Maintain an active lifestyle

Exercise affects HDL cholesterol in a positive way. One study which was published on Preventing Chronic Disease found that physical activity increases HDL by 6.5 mg/dL especially for programs that are continued for long periods.

2. Stop smoking

Most people know the dangers of smoking. But what you probably didn’t know is that cigarette smoking can cause the buildup of cholesterol in the blood vessels thus making it difficult for HDL to sweep them out.

3. Avoid sugar

Emory University researchers assessed the diets of over 6,000 adults and found that those who obtained most of their calories from sugar had lower HDL levels.

4. Consume more red and purple colored fruits and veggies

Grapes, raspberries, strawberries, onions, sweet potato, plums, purple cabbage, and eggplants contain anthocyanins which are chemicals that can increase the concentration of HDL. One study found that those who were given anthocyanin supplements increased their HDL level by 13.7% percent.

5. Eat dark chocolate

Eating 50g of dark chocolate a day has been found to improve the HDL’s antioxidative action. Whoever said normalizing your cholesterol level can be enjoyable certainly knows what he’s doing, wouldn’t you agree?

Other measures to raise HDL level include losing weight and taking medications, which should be done with medical supervision. Drugs like niacin, statins and gemfibrozil have been found to raise HDL by 5 points.

Whether you’re trying to stay healthy or start a healthy lifestyle, it’s necessary to first determine what your serum total cholesterol, HDL and LDL levels are so you will know how much needs to be done to get your levels back to normal.

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