Healthy cholesterol levels are a combination of low overall numbers and the ratio of high-density lipoprotiens (HDL), or “good” cholesterol, to low-density lipoprotiens (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol. There are a number of ways to increase your levels of HDL cholesterol.
According to the Mayo Clinic, smoking both lowers HDL cholesterol levels and causes a chemical change to HDL that makes it unable to provide protection against heart disease. Quitting smoking can increase HDL levels by as much as 10 percent. The Mayo Clinic also recommends losing weight. A loss of around six pounds can increase HDL levels by about 1 mg/Dl. Exercise can also increase levels of HDL cholesterol. When combined with exercise-related weight loss, the increase can be significant.
Some dietary supplements can both reduce overall cholesterol levels and increase HDL levels. Niacin, a form of vitamin B, is listed by Medical News Today as having beneficial effects on cholesterol levels. The Mayo Clinic suggests eating foods that contain plant sterols, such as certain margarines. Fish oil or any oil high in omega-3 fatty acids can also increase HDL cholesterol to improve the ratio of good to bad cholesterol in your blood. Niacin, omega-3 fatty acids and plant sterols are separate dietary components but might be found in various combinations in some foods.
Some cholesterol medications, including some statin drugs, can increase your ratio of HDL cholesterol to LDL cholesterol. Because these medications lower overall levels of cholesterol, you may see a decrease in HDL. However, you often will see a more dramatic decrease in LDL with a lower decrease in HDL. Statin drugs that often lower overall cholesterol levels while increasing the ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol include Lipitor and combination drugs that contain Lipitor. Whether lowering the overall levels of cholesterol or simply increasing the ratio is better will depend on a number of factors, including initial cholesterol levels and whether someone with high cholesterol is already starting with a good ratio of HDL to LDL.
HDL and LDL
There are two sources of HDL and LDL cholesterol. Some is produced in the body and other enters the body through diet. Which source contributes more to blood cholesterol levels depends on the person. Ideally, cholesterol levels should be below 200 mg/dL. The average ratio of LDL to HDL is about 4.5. The lower the ratio, meaning higher levels of HDL, the better.