Cholesterol Home > Raise HDL
Being overweight or obese (see BMI Calculator) is often associated with high triglycerides and low HDL. Frequently, weight loss alone can significantly raise HDL levels. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight through diet and regular exercise is important in managing low HDL levels.
Smoking cigarettes lowers HDL levels. Cigarette smoking is also a major risk factor for coronary heart disease. A recent study suggests that passive smoking ("secondhand smoke") also decreases HDL. Quitting smoking can increase HDL and lower the risk for heart disease.
Moderate alcohol intake can improve HDL levels, but it does not lower LDL cholesterol. Research studies have shown that HDL can be raised, on average, by 4.0 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) with moderate alcohol consumption.
(Click Alcohol and High Cholesterol for more information.)
For someone whose levels are low, the first recommended treatment for increasing HDL is lifestyle changes. By making such changes, many people are able to have their HDL raised to a "normal" level without the use of medications.
Some cholesterol medications used to lower LDL can also increase HDL. Studies using statins have reported a modest 5 to 10 percent increase in HDL levels. Nicotinic acid has been shown to increase HDL levels by 15 to 35 percent. Fibrates have been shown to raise it by 10 to 15 percent.
Estrogen tends to increase HDL as well. This is one reason why it is thought that premenopausal women are protected from heart disease. In fact, in studies where women took estrogen, HDL was raised by up to 10 percent. However, estrogen is currently not a recommended treatment for improving HDL because of the increased risk of developing certain diseases and conditions (see Hormone Replacement Therapy for more information).