Do you dread opening up the white envelope of lab results after your annual physical only to discover a jumble of numbers, red ink, and arrows pointing every possible direction? Lipid or cholesterol panel results can be confusing to comprehend, and when numbers come back “out of range” it can only further fuel feelings of discouragement and helplessness.
However, although low levels of HDL predict increased cardiovascular risk, particularly in healthy individuals with no history of cardiovascular events, the relationship between HDL and CHD risk is complex, with HDL-C and cardiovascular disease having a nonlinear relationship. For example, research found that HDL levels above approximately 60 mg/dL showed no further improvement in prognosis, and the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition)-Norfolk and IDEAL (Incremental Decrease in End Points through Aggressive Lipid Lowering) studies showed that very high levels of HDL may actually be associated with an increased risk of atherosclerotic disease. [5, 6, 2]
There are two types of dietary fiber: soluble (viscous) and insoluble. To receive the greatest health benefit, eat a wide variety of all high-fiber foods. Refined foods, like white bread, white pasta and enriched cereals are low in fiber. The refining process strips the outer coat (bran) from the grain, which reduces the amount of fiber that's left.
Research has shown the health benefits of eating seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids, especially when it replaces less healthy proteins that are high in saturated fat and low in unsaturated fat. Including seafood high in omega-3 fatty acids as part of a heart-healthy diet can help reduce the risk of heart failure, coronary heart disease, cardiac arrest and the most common type of stroke (ischemic).
Once you know your cholesterol levels, it’s time to discuss a plan with your doctor. Although changing your lifestyle to include a heart-healthy diet and plenty of exercise is usually the first step to lower cholesterol, some types of cholesterol problems like familial hypercholesterolemia may require medication right away. Work with your doctor to come up with the best cholesterol goals for you and the best ways to get there.
HDL is more tightly controlled by genetic factors than are the other lipoproteins (ie, LDL, very–low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), intermediate-density lipoprotein [IDL], chylomicrons). For example, in certain families, especially some families with Japanese ancestry, a genetic deficiency of cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) is associated with strikingly elevated HDL-C levels. 
Many people don't like to hear it, but regular aerobic exercise (any exercise, such as walking, jogging or bike riding, that raises your heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes at a time) may be the most effective way to increase HDL levels. Recent evidence suggests that the duration of exercise, rather than the intensity, is the more important factor in raising HDL cholesterol. But any aerobic exercise helps.
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 cup of tea does more than soothe on a stressful day. Both green and black tea can help lower cholesterol levels. Green tea is prepared from unfermented leaves and black tea from fully fermented leaves of the same plant. Researchers believe that catechins, a type of antioxidant found in tea, are responsible for its cholesterol-lowering effect. The more fermented the tea leaves, the lower the catechin content and the higher the caffeine content.
Try to eat it two to four times a week. “Not only are the omega-3 fats in fish heart-healthy, but replacing red meat with fish will lower your cholesterol by reducing your exposure to saturated fats, which are abundant in red meat,” Samaan says. The catch? Some types, like shark, swordfish, and king mackerel, are high in mercury. That can increase your risk for heart disease. Instead, choose wild salmon, sardines, and bluefin tuna.
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.
Niacin (vitamin B3) is believed to block cholesterol production in the body. Although niacin in prescription supplement form appears to be most effective in increasing HDL, it may have side effects such as flushing, itching, and headache, so you may want to consider adding niacin-containing foods to your diet first. Niacin is found in high concentrations in crimini mushrooms, chicken breast, halibut, tomato, romaine lettuce, enriched bread, and cereals.
The small HDL particles consist of the lipoprotein ApoA-1, without much cholesterol. Thus, the small HDL particles can be thought of as “empty” lipoproteins, that are on their way to scavenge excess cholesterol from the tissues. In contrast, the large HDL particles contain a lot of cholesterol. These particles have already done their scavenging work, and are just waiting to be taken back up by the liver.
HDL is actually more complex than we once thought. Rather than being a single kind of particle, HDL is is now considered a family of different particles. All HDL contains lipids (fats), cholesterol and proteins (called apolipoproteins), but some types of HDL are spherical while others are shaped like a doughnut. Some HDL types remove bad cholesterol from the blood while other types are indifferent to cholesterol. Or even worse, some HDL transfers cholesterol the wrong way (into LDL and cells) or protects LDL in a way that makes it more harmful to the arteries.
Different foods lower cholesterol in various ways. Some deliver soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and its precursors in the digestive system and drags them out of the body before they get into circulation. Some give you polyunsaturated fats, which directly lower LDL. And some contain plant sterols and stanols, which block the body from absorbing cholesterol.
As a result of all this, doctors don’t just want you to lower your total cholesterol count; they want you to change the ratio as well, so you have more HDL and less LDL. “When we looked at the data, we found that the higher your HDL went, the lower your risk of heart attack,” says cardiologist William Castelli, M.D., former director of the Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts. An HDL level of 75 or more seems to convey extra longevity for many people, while a count of 100 or more is so beneficial that it was dubbed the “Methuselah syndrome” by one researcher. HDL less than 35 or so, meanwhile, can carry significant risk of heart disease. Genetics plays a large role in HDL. A few guys have naturally low levels and need to keep their LDL low as well to make up for it. (As Castelli puts it, you don’t need a substance that removes cholesterol from your blood if you don’t have much to begin with.) But there’s plenty that everyone else can do to pump up their HDL. Never one to shirk from a task that doesn’t involve housecleaning, I managed to find two handfuls of ways to turn my “good” numbers into great numbers.
You've probably heard that fried foods of all kinds, hydrogenated oils, and full-fat dairy products are cholesterol bombs that are best avoided (and not just by those watching their cholesterol levels). The American Heart Association recommends that everyone restrict these foods, as they contain trans and saturated fats, the "bad" kind that raises LDL cholesterol and leads to plaque buildup in the arteries.