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What is HDL (Good Cholesterol), and How Can I Increase Mine?

Approximately 93 million adults over the age of 20 in the United States have total cholesterol numbers over 200 mg/dL, which is elevated, and 12% of adults have numbers that top 240 mg/dL. Qualifying as having bad cholesterol can mean any number of things, including not having enough “good” cholesterol in your system to balance the “bad.”

At our practice, we believe that education is key in controlling cholesterol numbers, which is why fellowship-trained cardiologist James Kim and our team pulled together the following information to help you sort through the ABCs of HDL and LDL.

Not stopping there, we’ve also included some tips on how to raise your good cholesterol numbers to better protect your heart health.

The ABCs of HDL and LDL

Understanding your cholesterol numbers can be confusing, so we’re going to break it down into good and bad: Your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) number represents the bulk of the cholesterol in your system, and higher-than-normal levels leave you at risk for developing serious heart disease or stroke. 

In other words, your LDL is the “bad” cholesterol, which can build up in your blood vessels and hamper your circulation. 

Helping to balance your cholesterol levels are high-density lipoproteins (HDL), which absorb cholesterol and cart it off to your liver for expulsion, making HDL your “good” cholesterol.

In a perfect world, your total cholesterol numbers should be under 200 mg/dL and your HDL numbers should be 50 mg/dL or higher if you’re female and 40 mg/dL or higher if you’re male. The more good cholesterol you have in your system, the less problems you’ll have with your LDL, which makes increasing your HDL level a good idea.

Increasing your HDL

There are several ways you can increase your levels of HDL, starting with your diet. Foods that boost the levels of HDL in your system include:

Another great way to encourage higher HDL numbers is to exercise regularly, especially high-intensity exercises like running.

If you’re overweight, losing the excess pounds is important for most areas of your health, including your heart health. Studies show that losing just 5-10% of your excess body weight can lead to lower overall cholesterol numbers and higher HDL levels.

Lastly, if you smoke, you likely already know that it’s very bad for your heart health. When it comes to HDL, one study found that of 1,500 who quit smoking, HDL levels increased two times more in those who didn’t smoke after a year versus those who resumed smoking within a year.

If you have more questions about the role that HDL plays in your heart health and how you can increase it, please contact one of our two locations in National City and Chula Vista, California.

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