Not all cholesterol is bad for you. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, actually lowers unhealthy low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, in your body. If your HDL level is running a bit low, you can do several things to bring it back up. Otherwise, if your HDL continues to plunge, your overall cholesterol and LDL levels can get out of control.
How HDL Works
HDL molecules act like scavengers in your body. As they roam around, they pick up some of the LDL particles and transport them to your liver. Once the LDL particles reach your liver, they are broken down and sent out through waste. Because of this, generally the more HDL you have in your blood, the lower your LDL.
Ideal Cholesterol Levels
Since HDL is helpful in your body, you need higher amounts. Ideally your HDL should be greater than 60 milligrams per deciliter. You’ll also want to watch your LDL level, which should be less than 100 milligrams per deciliter. Lastly, your total cholesterol should be under 200 milligrams per deciliter to keep your heart in tip-top shape.
If your HDL drops below 50 milligrams per deciliter, your risk of developing heart disease greatly increases, according to MayoClinic.com. Without adequate HDL in your body, your LDL level goes up. This damaging cholesterol builds up inside arteries, making them hard and stiff, a condition known as atherosclerosis. Your heart has to work harder than normal to get blood through these rigid arteries, weakening the heart muscle over time. The longer you go with abnormally low HDL levels, the more likely you are to develop serious cardiovascular problems later on in life.
Boosting Your HDL
The first step to elevating your HDL is losing weight. Being even a few pounds overweight can greatly impact your cholesterol levels. Dropping just 6 pounds can increase HDL by 1 percent, MayoClinic.com reports. Nixing that smoking habit may elevate HDL cholesterol by as much as 10 percent, while exercising more often can boost the good cholesterol by 5 percent, if you were normally pretty sedentary. Additionally, getting more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – instead of saturated and trans fats – in your diet boosts your HDL level, while lowering your LDL. These beneficial fats come from avocados, vegetable oils, nuts and fatty cold-water fish.
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.