HDL The Good Cholesterol

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Exercise and Diet can Boost your Good Cholesterol

There are several lifestyle changes that may be of benefit for increasing the "good" cholesterol, HDL.  This is very important, since every point of increase in HDL can significantly decrease the risk of heart disease.  In an ideal situation, the liver produces cholesterol, which is carried by LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) throughout the body, serving vital functions.  The HDL then shuttles the cholesterol back to the liver so that too much doesn't build up in the bloodstream.  Problems arise when there is too much LDL, and not enough HDL to carry it back, creating an imbalance that may lead to heart disease.

HDL is a protein made by the body. Like LDL, HDL is not actually a component of food.  It is made by the body, and is primarily genetically determined.  However, individuals also have the potential to improve their HDL.  Cholesterol (not HDL or LDL) is a component of food, and is found only in animal products like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy foods.  We can influence the formation of either LDL or HDL with our lifestyle, which includes your diet and exercise programs.  And yes, there are several ways to increase HDL, the "good" cholesterol.
Exercise!  You don't have to be an Olympic athlete, though you do need to be consistent.  This tried and true way of increasing HDL cholesterol works over time.  While we tend to think of exercise as an excellent way to burn calories and tone up muscles, exercise is also the quickest way to improve your state of mind, and many first time exercisers will experience this benefit in as little as 2 weeks.  Every little bit counts:  stairs, walking, biking, upper body and lower body weight training.  Make exercise a priority!

  • Fish!  The intake of several fish meals per week has been observed to significantly increase HDL cholesterol, even over short amount of time.  Choose the fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, swordfish, etc.  Make them tasty and appealing, and consume these fairly regularly.  Fish oil in supplemental form has been shown to increase HDL cholesterol over a longer period of time.
  • Other omega-3 fatty acids such as flaxseed (ground of course), soy foods, green leafy vegetables, and walnuts are all good sources of terrestrial omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Alcohol.  Yes, alcohol (particularly red wine) has been known to increase HDL cholesterol, in moderation only.  If you have elevated triglycerides, please do NOT use this method of increasing HDL cholesterol.
  • Weight loss in overweight individuals will often decrease LDL and increase HDL cholesterol.
  • For women, estrogen replacement therapy usually increases HDL cholesterol.

There are several things that tend to suppress HDL cholesterol.  Modifying these behaviors will often quickly allow the beneficial HDL cholesterol to rise nicely:

  • Decrease refined sugars and carbohydrates in the diet.  These are white sugar products, honey, white breads and pasta, in addition to the sweetened beverages we Americans tend to consume in excess.  Find a diabetic substitute, increase the fiber in your breads and pasta, or just eliminate most of those sweet nothings.
  • Quit smoking.  This will definitely increase your HDL levels as well as significantly reducing risk of other diseases.
  • Very low fat diets will decrease HDL as well as LDL cholesterol. Best to include some of those beneficial fats such as those found in fish, nuts, flax, avocados, and legumes (such as soy, kidney, chickpeas).

Sometimes, individuals will see a temporary decrease in HDL if major dietary changes have taken place, and the total cholesterol has been lowered significantly.  This is not usually a cause for immediate concern, as HDL levels will rise if dietary changes are maintained. Implement the suggestions listed above for increasing the HDL levels, and wait and see your HDL rise over the next few months.  Reach for your health potential!

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