Summary: Here are six ways to increase HDL naturally. By employing more than one, or all of them, it may be possible to see an increase of 40% or more in HDL levels.
Dear Curtis: Is there anything that I can do to naturally increase my HDL cholesterol?
Yes there is. In addition, these have a lot of good science and proof behind them.They aren’t complicated. In fact, they are simple. But that does not mean they will be easy for you.
First of all, let’s set some ground rules.
HDL is known as the ‘good’ cholesterol. And, for good reason. In a general sense it goes in and appears to scour or rotor rooter your arteries. The higher your levels, the healthier you likely are (at least when it comes to heart health).
Now, most doctors will separate out men from women as far as what the ideal HDL level is. Go with your doctors advice but if you are shooting for a nice round number aim for something above 60 mg/dL – man or woman.
Now, how do you do that?
Let’s get started.
1) If You Smoke, Stop NOW
Not only will quitting smoking raise your HDL by up to 10%, there is some evidence that smoking can ‘alter’ your HDL cholesterol and make them less effective at their job of ‘scouring’ your arteries of nasty stuff. Leaving more to cling to your arteries and cause problems.
2) Alcohol Isn’t All Bad
Some folks frown on any kind of alcohol consumption. And that’s fine. But, personal feelings aside there are health reason to drink in moderation. Raising HDL levels is one of them.
While specific increases are hard to pinpoint – having a glass of red wine or a glass of beer or a mixed drink has been shown to increase HDL levels. Again, this isn’t for everybody and if you are uncomfortable with drinking or have a family history of alcoholism avoid the stuff. The rise in your HDL will not be astronomical. But again, moderate alcohol consumption can increase your HDL levels.
3) Eat Naturally
I know this advice is kind of vague. But again, if you know anything about me you know one of my mantra’s is to avoid (when possible) any man-made (i.e., processed) foods. That includes (especially includes) trans fatty acids. You know, the All-American “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” that is practically a staple at the average Americans table.
In addition to avoid trans-fats eating naturally also gives you the added benefit of upping your intake of monounsaturated fats like avocado, olive oil and natural peanut butter. Monounsaturated fats have been found to raise HDL levels while not raising total cholesterol levels.
Finally, as far as HDL cholesterol goes, eating naturally allows you to radically increase your fiber intake. I’m talking mainly fruits and vegetables here, which are great sources of soluble and non-soluble fiber. I recommend you avoid the grains. Yes, they contain fiber. But nutritionally, they are on the bottom of the totem pole and, frankly, aren’t worth the trouble they cause.
You’ll also have the added benefit of likely lowering your risk of colon cancer as your bowel movements and regularity will improve. This is particularly a problem that I see in women who either are constantly bloated, gassy or borderline lactose intolerant or symptoms of Crohn’s Disease.
Also try not to choke on the dogma that low-fat is best. Contrary to popular belief, eating a low-fat diet will rob you of essential fatty acids. In fact, it may bring you a step back in terms of your overall health. Again, repeat after me, fats are not the enemy that they’ve been made out to be over the last 30 years.
Ah, the dreaded exercise word. But don’t worry. You don’t have to go out and train for a marathon. In fact, doing so will likely make your situation worse.
Instead, focus on intense, shorter duration activities. Then, when those are done you can take a nice, leisurely walk. The point is to almost act like you are a caveman (or woman).
Short, intense periods of activity followed by longer periods of inactivity or low activity.
Yes, I know that some evidence points to length of activity as the important factor over intensity. But here is my problem with that, the longer you exercise the more you sacrifice lean muscle mass. You need look no further than a world class sprinter vs. a world class marathoner. Ironically, many consider a marathoner healthier just because he or she exercises longer despite the fact that they have extremely high rates of certain types of cancer including brain. Also, they are weak compared to sprinters.
Any exercise is better than nothing. But, work on retaining and building lean muscle mass and raising your HDL with shorter, more intense exercise (after you’ve gotten your doctor’s OK, of course).
SIDENOTE: At this point just some simple lifestyle changes can add an almost immediate 10% to 20% raises in your HDL levels. Now for the best part, by adding in some smart supplementation (and not prescription drugs) you can not only raise your HDL significantly, but your total cholesterol will remain healthy unlike with prescription drugs.
5) Supplement With Niacin
I’ve written before about the niacin cholesterol link. But it bares repeating.
There is substantial evidence that points to niacin’s ability to naturally raise (remember – it’s Vitamin B3) HDL cholesterol levels.
In fact, numerous studies point to niacin’s ability to raise HDL by 30% to 40%. As an added, bonus, niacin is inexpensive.
But, as with anything, there is a drawback. In niacin’s case it is the troublesome (not harmful – just annoying) side effect of flushing.
6) Krill Oil
Lately, Krill Oil has been receiving a lot of attention.
First of all, it appears to help with a number of disease states. There is evidence to support it’s use in severe PMS symptoms as well as raising HDL levels.
Like niacin, Krill Oil can substantially raise HDL levels. But again, it doesn’t come without a downside.
First of all, Krill Oil – while not outrageously expensive – isn’t as cheap as niacin.
Secondly, Krill is a small crustacean in the Antarctic Ocean. While there numbers are very large there are predators that depend on their numbers remaining high for survival. If Krill Oil takes off as a natural supplement there is environmental concerns that need to be addressed.
SIDENOTE: Ironically, Krill Oil is often compared to fish oil supplements to gauge it’s effectiveness. Fish oils biggest claim to fame is it’s sheer amount of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to also raise HDL levels. As per the above dietary recommendations, you may want to add cold water fish like salmon to your diet.