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What is HDL Cholesterol? A Detailed Guide

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Cholesterol is a substance that is either fatty or waxy and can be found in your blood. It’s possible to take in cholesterol through foods like eggs, meat, and dairy. Although it is known to be harmful to health, cholesterol isn’t completely bad.

A general rule is that high-density lipoprotein (HDL) is the good cholesterol that removes the bad or LDL cholesterol from your bloodstream before it builds up. However, the body needs an adequate amount of cholesterol to function.

Keep reading to learn more about HDL cholesterol and how you can boost its levels for better health. 

HDL Cholesterol: What is It?

Cholesterol moves through the blood through a class of proteins known as lipoproteins. A lipoprotein is a collection of soluble proteins combined with lipids in blood plasma. 

There are HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. The term “good cholesterol” frequently refers to high-density lipoprotein. HDL cholesterol eliminates excess cholesterol and plaque formation from your arteries and delivers it to your liver for removal.

In addition, research has shown that HDL cholesterol lowers your risk of developing heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Finding Your HDL Levels: A Guide

According to research, healthy HDL cholesterol levels (based on milligrams per deciliter measurements taken during a fast) should be at least 40 mg/dl for males, 50 mg/dl for women, and more than 45 mg/dl for children. Therefore, a number greater than 60 mg/dL is high, and less than 40 mg/dL is low.

You can determine your cholesterol levels by a blood test called a lipid panel. Depending on your age, gender, risk factors, and family history, you should undergo this test occasionally or as needed. 

For 19 Years of Age or Younger

  • You should take your first test between 9 to 11 years of age.
  • After this, children can get tested every five years.
  • Starting at age 2, some children may undergo this test, but only if there is a family history of high blood cholesterol and other cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke. 

For 20 Years of Age or Older

  • You can get tested every five years.
  • Ideally, perform these tests every 1-2 years for women aged 55 to 65 and men aged 45 to 65. 

The HealthifyMe Note

Your HDL count should not be lower than 40 (or at least 50 if you’re female). A healthy level of HDL cholesterol can protect against heart attack and stroke since it carries LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver for removal. However, It doesn’t completely eliminate LDL cholesterol since some amount is necessary for overall well-being. 

What Lowers HDL Levels?

If you are concerned about having low HDL levels, avoiding smoking, excessive weight gain, and a sedentary lifestyle may help reverse the condition. Additionally, some persons may have reduced HDL levels after taking specific medications. So, if you take one of the following, you can consult your doctor to address the concern.

  • Beta-blockers (blood pressure medication)
  • Anabolic steroids (male hormone-based)
  • Progestins (female hormones)
  • Benzodiazepines (sedatives for anxiety and insomnia)

Methods to Increase HDL Levels

Physical Activity and Maintaining Healthy Weight

Losing weight can increase your HDL level, especially if you have a lot of extra fat. Additionally, regular exercise can lower your LDL and improve your HDL levels. Therefore, dedicate 30 minutes of your day to moderate to strenuous aerobic activity.

Reduce Tobacco and Alcohol Consumption

Since tobacco products lower HDL levels and increase LDL levels, smoking reduces your HDL level. If you smoke, you should look for the most effective strategy to stop. Attempt to stay away from passive smoking as well.

Additionally, drinking too much alcohol increases weight gain, which lowers HDL levels. For your health, avoid alcohol and tobacco consumption.

Right Food

You can improve the HDL to LDL ratio by making the proper food choices, which can lower your LDL levels. Avoid trans fats (in some baked products and fried foods) and limit saturated fats (full-fat dairy, meats). Additionally, you should eat items that raise HDL, such as:

  • Whole grains, such as bran, cereals, and brown or wild rice
  • Heart-healthy fats are abundant in nuts, including Brazil nuts, almonds, pistachios, and other varieties.
  • Avocados include a beneficial type of fat (monounsaturated and folate) that lowers your risk of stroke, cardiac arrest, and cardiovascular disease and helps maintain HDL levels. 
  • Fibre-rich foods like kidney beans, oatmeal, Brussels sprouts, apples and pears

Conclusion

Even though high LDL cholesterol levels can be harmful, HDL cholesterol is still necessary for good health. It’s important to note that the ideal HDL level can differ from person to person, depending on age and gender.

Additionally, dietary, environmental, and medical factors can impact HDL levels, raising or lowering them. If you’re thinking about making significant changes to your diet or using frequent tests to monitor your HDL levels, it’s best to speak with a healthcare provider first to discuss your goals.

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