Having high cholesterol can bring a whole host of health risks with it, including stroke, angina, heart disease and heart attacks. There are different types of cholesterol. When you go for a cholesterol test your doctor will measure your levels of LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Put simply, triglycerides are fats in the blood, LDL cholesterol is linked to health issues and HDL is often classes as “good” cholesterol. Let’s delve into HDL cholesterol in more depth.
What is HDL cholesterol?
HDL is high density lipoprotein. Lipoproteins carry cholesterol around the blood. HDL cholesterol is considered protective, which gives it the reputation of being a “good” cholesterol. Elevated levels of LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol can be unhealthy. HDL cholesterol removes the harmful bad cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. For this reason, a high level of HDL cholesterol is considered to be very healthy. Once HDL has removed LDL cholesterol, it transports it to the liver where it is reprocessed. Without sufficient HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol can build up on the walls of the arteries, causing them to thin and potentially causing blockages. These blockages can be fatal and may lead to heart attack or stroke (if the blood supply to the heart or brain is affected).
How do I find out my HDL level?
If your doctor is at all concerned about your cholesterol they will carry out a fasting blood test. Sometimes referred to as a cholesterol test or lipid panel, this simple test will provide information on your LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels. Ideally, your HDL level should be higher than 60 mg/dL which is classed as high. If it is less than 40mg/dL then it is considered low which could signify that you are at risk of heart disease.
Can I boost my HDL?
If your LDL level is high it could be very dangerous, you will want to take measures to keep it under control these usually involve medications such as statins combined with lifestyle changes.
The following lifestyle choices will also help to raise your HDL level, effectively lowering your LDL level:
Do plenty of aerobic exercise – aim for 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise at least three times a week. Ideally, you should also engage in some moderate physical exercise each day.
Stop smoking – the chemical acrolein is found in cigarettes and is known to stop HDL cholesterol from reaching the liver
Maintain a healthy weight – If your weight is of BMI 30 or over then you are considered obese. Obesity is linked to a number of health problems, including diseases of the cardiovascular system. Ideally, your BMI should not exceed 25.
A recent American study recently showed that alcohol consumption can actually raise HDL levels as it increases the transport rate of apolipoproteins (the proteins that bind lipids to form lipoproteins). Although better transportation of these proteins sounds like good news for our HDL count that does not mean that consuming alcohol is a healthy lifestyle choice. Alcohol consumption has also been shown to increase LDL cholesterol levels as well as being linked to numerous other health problems, it is far from the healthiest or most effective way to manage your cholesterol.
Boosting HDL with dietary choices
Cholesterol occurs naturally in certain foods and the following foods are known to increase HDL levels:
- olive oil
- fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel and sardines)
- high-fibre fruit (mangoes, apples, oranges, bananas and strawberries are excellent sources of fibre)
For a long time we have associated “good” cholesterol with a lower risk of heart disease, and there are plenty of studies to back up this idea. However, more recent research is now suggesting that perhaps “good” cholesterol is not quite as good as we have been lead to believe. That being said, the suggested measures to help boost HDL cholesterol are all very healthy. Exercise, abstaining from smoking and maintaining a healthy weight are all lifestyle choices that will provide numerous of health benefits, regardless of HDL cholesterol. The dietary suggestions are all healthy too. Fatty or oily fish has been linked to improved brain function, mood and vision, as well as helping fight against cardiovascular disease. Whereas, high fibre fruits are great at keeping your blood sugar under control, preventing haemorrhoids and reducing the risk of kidney stones.
Should we be concerned about our HDL levels?
As a low level of HDL cholesterol is likely to mean that your LDL level is high, then it is worth keeping track of your HDL level. With new evidence showing that HDL cholesterol is not the miracle protein that we once believed, it is sensible to not focus on building your levels of HDL exclusively. Making carefully considered lifestyle choices that will improve your overall health and wellbeing is a much safer option. As the guidance for boosting HDL levels involves activities and foods that are healthy and beneficial, it is important to integrate them into your life. A healthy, balanced diet and active lifestyle will provide numerous health benefits, including a reduced risk of conditions such as heart disease which are linked to high levels of cholesterol. Instead of focusing on HDL cholesterol, consider making improvements to your lifestyle that will ultimately give you better health all round.