Almost a year ago, I wrote a pretty extensive blog on cholesterol. This blog went into all aspect of cholesterol…it was a tad overwhelming to say the least. You can peruse that monster of a blog here. At the top, I do have a fancy download for you that will go over several steps you can take to lower your overall cholesterol levels. There’s a meal plan too 🙂
But I digress…
Aside from other aspects of disordered cholesterol levels, I see low HDL. Too low, really. This isn’t a good thing because HDL is really what helps balance out the “bad” cholesterol. HDLs have been shown to be protective against cardiovascular disease. They also function as antioxidants, help reduce systemic inflammation, and acts on cognition. But what is HDL, really?
In this blog, we will break it down. We’ll look at exactly what HDL is, the function of HDL in the body, and what you can do to increase your HDL.
Obligatory cholesterol facts
High cholesterol is more common than many people think that it is. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 31 million adults have high total cholesterol. On top of that, 31.7% of adults (or 73.5 million) people have high LDL in the US…yes just the US. And, fewer than 1 out 3 Americans have their cholesterol under control. Having untreated high cholesterol puts a person at twice the risk of developing heart disease, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. Like many other diseases, high cholesterol is on the rise. In 1980, roughly 5% of the population had high cholesterol. In 2010, that number was 23%. In 2016, that number grew to 29%.
Having high cholesterol isn’t the only issue. This condition leads to others as well. High cholesterol can increase your chances of developing a variety of diseases. Examples include heart disease, gallstones, high blood pressure, dementia, and fatty liver.
Now that we have some cholesterol basics under our belts, let’s take a look at HDLs.
HDLs and their function
HDL stands for high density lipoprotein. HDL isn’t really cholesterol but it is associated to cholesterol. This is the same for LDLs and triglycerides, but we’ll save that for another day. It’s helpful to think of lipoproteins as little cars that drive the cholesterol around the body. HDLs move around and suck up the bad cholesterol (LDLs) and helps the body excrete them. We want plenty of the good to help balance out the bad.
HDLs can actually remove the entrapped LDLs from the arteries allowing for more blood to flow back through them. What?! I know, right? I think it’s pretty sweet myself!
HDLs can also help reduce inflammation in the body. It’s been shown that HDLs can carry an antioxidant throughout the body. Antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals, which cause damage in the body and allow for disease to grow and spread. There’s also a correlation between increased HDL levels and decreased cognitive decline in the aging. What does that mean? It means, good HDL levels equate to remembering where you placed your keys. Just kidding…sort of.
HDLs = good stuff.
How to increase your HDL levels
Alright…the part of the blog you really want to know about.
First, let’s talk levels. Most are confused when they get their annual cholesterol reading. (Side note: If you aren’t getting one done annually, you should be!) You can read all about deciphering your report on my in-depth cholesterol blog here.
Many physicians will look to have your numbers above 40-45. I like 55. I really want to see HDL numbers well above 55. I’ve see numbers in the 80s and 90s! Actually, I’ve seen numbers over 100, which isn’t a good thing. This falls into the category of too much of anything isn’t always good. The max you’d want is somewhere in the range of 95. Having numbers over 100 can be pro-inflammatory…like having too much LDLs.
Now, how do you get ah-MAZING levels? I’m so glad you asked. Here are a few things you can do to increase your HDL:
Consume healthy fats (nuts/seeds/olives/avocados/flax)
Reduce your consumption of refined carbs (cookies/cakes/candies)
Increase your plant intake (brown rice/beans/quinoa/vegetables/fruit)
You see, increasing your HDL requires a lifestyle shift. It’s not any one thing. It’s a set of things. By increasing your HDL, you’re actually increasing your overall health status.
Before making a huge overhaul, I’d start by adding things to your diet instead of focusing on taking things away. When we want to make dietary changes, we usually start by trying to remove the “bad.” I prefer to add in some good to counterbalance the bad. And then, we take away the bad.
Tell me, what are your HDL levels? Do you know?
High Cholesterol Facts. (2015, March 17). Retrieved August 03, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/facts.htm
Hottman, D. A., Chernick, D., Cheng, S., Wang, Z., & Li, L. (2014). HDL and Cognition in Neurodegenerative Disorders. Neurobiology of Disease, 72PA, 22–36. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.nbd.2014.07.015
Rosenfeld, M. E. (2013). Inflammation and Atherosclerosis: Direct Versus Indirect Mechanisms. Current Opinion in Pharmacology, 13(2), 154–160. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.coph.2013.01.003