If you’re getting worked up over high cholesterol, then start working out. Daily exercise can help raise your HDL cholesterol levels and reduce your LDL cholesterol, while protecting you from many health conditions. Begin by choosing an activity that sounds like fun to avoid “workout burn-out.” Consider jogging, brisk walking, cycling, tennis, swimming or hitting the gym. Find an exercise partner to make the activity more enjoyable and help you stay on track. And while exercise can lower your cholesterol, it can also reduce your stress and anxiety. So working up a sweat can also save you from sweating the small stuff.
A: Before I answer that question, why bother to increase HDL cholesterol at all? Many studies have found that people with low levels of HDL are at increased risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other complications of arteries diseased by atherosclerosis: that's why we call HDL the "good" cholesterol. Given that, you'd think that raising HDL levels would reduce a person's risk for atherosclerosis. Unfortunately, despite a lot of research, we don't yet know if that's true, nor how best to raise HDL levels.
Other supplements that have been suggested for cholesterol have less evidence of being useful. In the case of red yeast rice, there is a potential danger because it contains a naturally-occurring form of lovastatin, a prescription drug. Garlic has now been shown to be ineffective for lowering cholesterol. Other supplements and food you may see touted include policosanol, coenzyme Q10, green tea, and soy.
How does that song go? "Beans, beans, they're good for your heart"? Well...those lyrics get it right! Beans are packed with cholesterol-busting soluble fiber, but that's not their only benefit. Beans are high in protein, which makes them a heart-healthy replacement for some animal protein sources, such as meat. For the biggest cholesterol-lowering benefits, add beans to chili, tacos and burritos (either in place of or in addition to meat). They're also great in soups and salads.
Eating seafood twice per week is a surefire way to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Fatty fish like salmon yields some of the greatest anti-inflammatory and heart-healthy benefits, as a Journal of Nutrition study found salmon protein to significantly increase the proportion of HDL cholesterol. One tip: fish should be purchased wild and sustainably caught. For a consumer guide on how to make informed choices you can check out the consumer guides provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
Heart-healthy eating. A heart-healthy eating plan limits the amount of saturated and trans fats that you eat. It recommends that you eat and drink only enough calories to stay at a healthy weight and avoid weight gain. It encourages you to choose a variety of nutritious foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Examples of eating plans that can lower your cholesterol include the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet and the DASH eating plan.
Barley, oatmeal and brown rice have lots of soluble fiber, which has been proven to lower LDL cholesterol by reducing the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream. Try switching out your regular pasta for the whole-grain version, or use brown rice instead of white. To give an added cholesterol-busting kick, top your morning oatmeal with high-fiber fruit like bananas or apples.
So if there is a cholesterol that is actually good for us, how can we naturally increase its levels? The short answer is lifestyle. Your lifestyle actually has the single greatest impact on your HDL cholesterol level. So making changes to daily and completely controllable habits like diet and exercise can equate to healthier HDL cholesterol levels, which can lower your risk for life-threatening health issues.
Lose Some Weight – Those who are overweight or obese will increase their HDL cholesterol levels when they lose weight (along with experiencing a myriad of other amazing health benefits). There’s no magic diet pill you need to take to make this happen. In order to achieve weight loss, simply count your calories, restrict your carbohydrate and sugar intake, eat more vegetables and fruits, and begin exercising. Not only will you lower your LDL cholesterol, but you will also feel more energetic and happier!
George T Griffing, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Society for Clinical Densitometry, Southern Society for Clinical Investigation, American College of Medical Practice Executives, American Association for Physician Leadership, American College of Physicians, American Diabetes Association, American Federation for Medical Research, American Heart Association, Central Society for Clinical and Translational Research, Endocrine Society