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What is HDL Cholesterol?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 05, 2024
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HDL cholesterol is a type of lipid found in the body. It serves a number of important functions, including scouring the blood for excess cholesterol and removing the excess to the liver, where it is broken down so that the body can eliminate it. This type of cholesterol is sometimes referred to as “good cholesterol,” because it has positive health benefits. Many doctors recommend keeping HDL cholesterol levels high so that their patients can enjoy better health.

Cholesterol gets a bad reputation in the news, but it is a vitally necessary lipid. Among other things, cholesterol helps to regulate hormone production, and it participates in the building of new cells. There are several different types of cholesterol in the body, each of which acts in a slightly different way, but the two types of most interest are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL), known as LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol.

LDL cholesterol, also called “bad cholesterol,” has a tendency to accumulate along the walls of the arteries. This causes constriction, which can lead to cardiovascular diseases. HDL cholesterol is capable of removing some of this plaque in addition to the freely floating cholesterol in the blood, which is why it is viewed as a good cholesterol, because it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Levels of cholesterol in the blood can be checked with a blood test which checks for serum cholesterol. The test can determine the overall level of cholesterol in the blood, and it can be used to distinguish between different types of cholesterol to get more precise information about a patient's health. Normal levels of HDL cholesterol hover around 40-60 milligrams per decaliter (mg/dL), and doctors often recommend that patients try to achieve levels higher than 60 mg/dL for better health. Women tend to benefit from slightly higher levels than men.

There are a number of ways to increase HDL cholesterol. Aerobic exercise appears to raise levels of this lipid in the blood, as does eating monounsaturated fats like those found in nuts, olive oil, seeds, and avocados. Avoiding trans fatty acids and smoking can also increase HDL levels, as can increasing fiber intake, drinking cranberry juice, and eating more fish. In patients with extremely low levels, a doctor may also recommend the use of certain medications which are designed to push HDL levels up. Having a check for cholesterol levels periodically is a good idea, as it can alert doctors and patients to early warning signs of a developing problem or potential for increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Babalaas — On Jan 14, 2011

@ Chicada- Most vegetables are not great HDL cholesterol foods, but eating a large salad per day will not hurt as long as it is not drenched in dressings high in saturated fats. Most vegetables only contain trace amounts of plant sterols (the stuff that raises good cholesterol). If you were to add a serving of dried beans, some slivered almonds, and flaked albacore tuna on the other hand, your salad would become a great way to raise good cholesterol.

By chicada — On Jan 13, 2011

What are some foods to raise my HDL good cholesterol levels? Will adding a large salad a day help me increase my good cholesterol?

By jabuka — On Dec 05, 2010

Raising HDL cholesterol levels might be a good way in preventing some cancers.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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