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Increasing Good Cholesterol

Also called: Increasing HDL Cholesterol

- Summary
- Fats that increase HDL
- Impact of triglycerides
- Impact of phytosterols
- Other strategies
- Questions for your doctor

Reviewed By:
Kerry Prewitt, M.D., FACC
Robert I. Hamby, M.D., FACC, FACP


Research has consistently shown that adequate HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels have a protective effect on people’s cardiovascular health. High HDL cholesterol levels are good because HDL has been shown to reverse some of the harmful effects of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Therefore, the more bad cholesterol a person has, the more HDL cholesterol is needed.

Research has not determined the necessary clinical HDL target levels to reduce the risk of High cholesterol (hyperlipidemia) involves elevated blood cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels.heart attack and heart disease. There is a broad consensus, however, that higher HDLs are cardioprotective. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute considers HDL cholesterol levels of below 40 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL) to be a risk factor for heart disease. Thus, people are frequently advised to keep HDL levels above 40 md/gL.

HDL levels above 60 mg/dL are considered a "negative risk factor" and will reduce the 10-year risk of suffering a heart attack, according to the coronary risk score designed by the Framingham Heart Study.

HDL levels are also used to help diagnose metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors that is known to increase risk of heart attack. For a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, men need to have HDLs less than 40 mg/dL, and women need to have HDLs less than 50 mg/dL, along with the presence of other risk factors including obesity, elevated triglycerides, insulin resistance and high blood pressure.

In light of research showing that women are at increased risk of heart attackStroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is restricted (e.g., by a blood clot), causing damage. after menopause, the American Heart Association encourages women to keep their HDL cholesterol level at 50 mg/dL or higher. Studies have shown that healthy HDL levels in the elderly can help preserve function of brain cells and protect against mental decline and low HDLs are linked with a higher risk of death from coronary artery disease and stroke. 

There are a number of strategies for increasing the level of HDL cholesterol and taking full advantage of its protective effect.

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Review Date: 03-20-2007

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