What are the benefits of HDL cholesterol in the body?

10 minutes read.

HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is a type of cholesterol naturally found in the body and in some food you eat.

It is often referred to as “good” cholesterol because it absorbs other types of cholesterol (LDL, cholesterol, & Triglyceride) and carries them away from your arteries back to your liver.

Your liver then eliminates it from your body.  And by so doing high levels of HDL protect your body from developing any heart-related disease such as stroke, high blood pressure, heart attack, etc. 

Cholesterol itself is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all the cells in your body. Your liver makes cholesterol, and it is also in some foods, such as meat and dairy products.

Your body needs some cholesterol to work properly. But having too much cholesterol in your blood raises your risk of coronary artery disease. (1)

Living a lifestyle that lowers your HDL cholesterol and increases LDL cholesterol either will put you at higher risk of developing heart diseases.

In this article, I will review to you all the benefits of HDL and how you can boost your HDL level to maximize healthy living including the risk you may have been taking.

Feel free to skip ahead:

What’s HDL

The main role of HDL

LDL , Triglyceride , Cholesterol

Healthy HDL cholesterol

Drugs that lower HDL

Drugs that increase HDL , Risk

How to boost HDL naturally

Food sources of HDL

FAQ , Conclusion

What’s HDL

HDL cholesterol is one of the five main types of lipoprotein. It carries about a quarter of the cholesterol in your blood.

Most of the rest is carried in LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, sometimes called ‘bad cholesterol’ as it can lead to heart disease. It contains a lot of protein and relatively little fat.

This means it’s very dense, which is why it’s called ‘high density’ lipoprotein.

HDL cholesterol is often known as ‘good cholesterol’ because it helps to protect your heart and blood vessels from disease. It’s essential for good health, but it can sometimes be too high or too low, which can lead to problems with your heart health. (2, 3, 4)

The main role of HDL

What are the main roles of HDL cholesterol?

HDL cholesterol has a protective role against diseases of the heart and blood vessels such as heart attacks and strokes. The cholesterol itself is fat, so it’s not the cholesterol that is protective, but the HDL lipoprotein as a whole.

HDL has three main effects

1.It removes excess cholesterol (fat) from the blood vessels and other tissues and returns it to the liver to be recycled or removed from the body.

2. It has an anti-inflammatory effect, which helps protect the artery walls against LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol).

3. It has an antioxidant effect, which helps protect cells and important chemicals in the blood and tissues from being broken down. (13, 14, 15, 16,17)

LDL, Triglyceride, Cholesterol

LDL cholesterol

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) can eventually build up within the walls of your blood vessels and narrow the passageways.

Sometimes a clot can form and get stuck in the narrowed space, causing a heart attack or stroke. This is why LDL cholesterol is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol.

If you have high LDL and low HDL cholesterol levels, your doctor will probably focus on lowering your LDL cholesterol first.

Medications known as statins — such as atorvastatin (Lipitor) and simvastatin (Zocor) — are the most common treatment for high LDL cholesterol. (5,6, 7)


Triglycerides are lipids (waxy fats) that provide energy for your body.  Your body makes triglycerides and also gets it from the foods you eat. High triglycerides combined with high cholesterol raise your risk of heart attack, stroke, and pancreatitis.

When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn’t need to use right away into triglycerides. The triglycerides are stored in your fat cells. Later, hormones release triglycerides for energy between meals. (8, 9)


Cholesterol is a type of lipid that performs many essential jobs in your body.

It’s a building block of your cell membranes. It also helps your body create bile, hormones and vitamin D. You need cholesterol. But too much of it in your blood can raise your heart disease risk.

Your liver makes enough cholesterol to support your body’s needs. But you also get extra cholesterol from the foods you eat. Your body has a system for getting rid of excess cholesterol.

 But sometimes, that system doesn’t work as well as it should or becomes overloaded. As a result, you can have extra cholesterol circulating in your blood. And that’s when you might run into trouble, hence boosting your HDL cholesterol levels is vital. (6,10, 11,13)

Healthy HDL cholesterol

What are healthy HDL cholesterol levels?

Healthy HDL cholesterol levels are different for men and women. Young boys and girls have similar HDL levels, but in boys, HDL levels fall after puberty and remain lower throughout their lives.

For women, HDL levels above 1.2mmol/L are thought to be healthy.

For men, HDL levels above 1.1mmol/L are thought to be healthy.

How high your HDL should depend on your age and sex.

For example, if measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) the range should be: (18, 19)

Group                  Healthy HDL Level

Age 19 or younger;   More than 45mg/dl (both male & female)

Men age 20 or older;    More than 40mg/dl

Women age 20 or older;          More than 50mg/dl

According to HEART UK’s specialists, HDL is at its most protective range when it’s around 1.3-1.4mmol/L, and anything above this might not offer any extra protection. (20)

Note that if you have high LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and your doctor is considering treatment to lower it, high HDL levels are not a reason to avoid treatment.

High HDL vs Low HDL cholesterol

In the past, studies showed that lower HDL levels raise the risk of diseases of the blood vessels, while high HDL levels were protective.

They suggested that the lower the HDL, the higher the risk of serious events such as heart attack and stroke, and the higher the HDL, the lower the risk. This would mean that raising HDL would lower the risk of illness.

More recent research suggests that HDL levels above 1.4mmol/L may not offer extra protection. In some cases, very high HDL could even raise the risk of serious problems such as a heart attack or stroke.(21, 22, 23, 24)

Those at Risk

Men:  Less than 40 mg/dL (1.0 mmol/L)

Women:   Less than 50 mg/dL (1.3 mmol/L)

To some extent, people who have naturally higher levels of HDL cholesterol are at lower risk of heart attack and stroke. It’s less clear whether that same benefit holds true for people who increase their HDL levels with medications.

Lifestyle changes known to increase HDL, such as moving more, quitting smoking, or improving your diet, have been shown to lower the risk of heart attacks,

However, medications that specifically increase HDL levels have failed to reduce the rate of heart attacks.

Oddly enough, people who naturally have extremely high HDL levels — above 100 mg/dL (2.5mmol/L) — appear to be at higher risk of heart disease. This may be caused by genetic factors.

Some studies also suggest that for people with high LDL cholesterol which is now well-controlled, raising your HDL with medicines does not lower the risk of serious problems such as heart attacks. 

Drugs that lower HDL

What type of medication can lower my HDL cholesterol?

Taking certain medicines can lower HDL levels in some people.

They include:

Beta-blockers are a type of blood pressure medicine.

Anabolic steroids, including testosterone, a male hormone..

Progestins are female hormones that are in some birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy.

Benzodiazepines are sedatives that are often used for anxiety and insomnia. (25,26, 27)

If you are taking one of these and you have a very low HDL level, ask your provider if you should continue to take them.

Diabetes can also lower your HDL level, that’s why you need to find out natural means to reverse existing diabetes or prevent it from developing. (28,29)

I hope you’re getting it. You can skip ahead if you wish.

Drugs that increase HDL

What type of medication can increase my HDL cholesterol?

HDL levels are sometimes improved by drugs used to lower LDL and triglyceride levels — such as prescription niacin; fibrates such as gemfibrozil (Lopid); and certain statins, particularly simvastatin (Zocor) and rosuvastatin (Crestor).

But clinical trials for several drugs specifically designed to increase HDL levels were halted early because they didn’t reduce the risk of heart attacks.

Drugs containing testosterone and other anabolic steroids can lower your HDL cholesterol levels. Avoiding these drugs may help increase your HDL numbers.(30,31, 32)


What are the risk factors that lower HDL cholesterol?

Certain drugs and lifestyles can increase your having low HDL.


Benzodiazepines, sedatives


Beta-blockers (steroids and testosterone)

Smoking, and too much alcohol.

If you smoke, find a way to quit. Smoking lowers HDL levels, especially in women, and increases LDL levels and triglycerides.

The moderate use of alcohol has been linked with higher levels of HDL cholesterol. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.

However, if you don’t drink, don’t start drinking to raise your HDL cholesterol levels. Too much alcohol can cause weight gain and might increase your blood pressure and triglyceride levels.

In another hand, even a moderate intake of alcohol can cause inflammation to your liver which slowly led to liver damage in some people as they age. So I suggest you use other many healthier means to increase your good cholesterol (HDL) instead. Although some trusted organizations may recommend moderate use of alcohol.


When it comes to what you eat, try to avoid trans-fats, as they can increase LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol levels.

Foods prepared with shortenings, such as cakes and cookies, often contain trans-fats, as do most fried foods and some margarine. Limit saturated fat, found in meats and full-fat dairy products, as well.

Eating too much fast food and bakery which are known to be rich in trans-fat and saturated fats is the common way through which people lower their HDL unaware.

Not doing exercises. If you’re not doing enough physical exercise and you’re consuming this food on a daily basis you’re increasing your risk.

Besides helping you lose weight, increased physical activity can lower your triglycerides, the most common type of fat in your body, while increasing your HDL levels.

Benefits can be seen with as little as 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week.

HDL levels are typically lower in people who have metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that include obesity, increased blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels.

How to boost HDL naturally

How can I boost my HDL cholesterol without drugs?

These lifestyle changes are the key to increasing your HDL cholesterol and obtaining overall health at the same time:

1.Certain diet

Eat a healthy diet. To raise your HDL level, you need to eat good fats instead of bad fats.

This means limiting saturated fats, which include full-fat milk and cheese, high-fat meats like red beef, sausage, and bacon, and foods made with butter, lard, and shortening.

You should also avoid trans fats, which may be in some margarine, fried foods, and processed foods like baked goods. Instead, eat unsaturated fats, which are found in avocado, vegetable oils like olive oil, and nuts.

Limit carbohydrates, especially sugar. Also try to eat more foods naturally high in fiber, such as oatmeal and beans.

Stay at a healthy weight. You can boost your HDL level by losing weight, especially if you have lots of fat around your waist.  You can start making ginger water or ginger tea in your home if you want to lose fat fast.

2. Exercise.

Getting regular exercise can raise your HDL level, as well as lower your LDL. You should try to do 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise on most, if not all, days.

Following the above mention diet plan with consistent moderate exercise can go a long way in raising your HDL.

3. Smoking.

Avoid cigarettes. Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke can lower your HDL level. If you are a smoker, ask your healthcare provider for help in finding the best way for you to quit. You should also try to avoid smoke.

4. Alcohol

Limit alcohol and soft drinks including fruit juice except if you produce it yourself from whole natural fruits in your home.

Food sources of HDL

Heart-healthy food such as those rich in omega 3 fatty is the best way to increase your HDL cholesterol and increase your overall health.


  • Avocado
  • Whole soybeans or soy-based products
  • Black beans (fresh and dry)
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Whole grain
  • Seeds – flax seeds, chia seeds, melon seed (mkpuru egwusi) pumpkin seed, sesame seed, fermented oil bean seed (ukpaka/ugba), boil bread fruit water(mmiri ukwa).
  • Locally processed Palm oil
  • Olive oil
  • Fiber fruits like mangos, cashew, carrots, pineapple, pumpkin fruit (ayu), etc
  • Nuts- groundnut/peanut, Brazil nuts, almond pistachios, cashew nuts, etc
  • Fatty fish-point and kill, sardine, salmon
  • mackerel, albacore tuna, and rainbow trout
  • White meat- pork, ram, dog, chicken, turkey, wild-cut meat. (33, 34, 35,36)
  • Walnuts

In 2014, randomized controlled crossover clinical trials have shown that daily consumption of 43 g of walnuts for 8 weeks significantly reduced non-HDL-cholesterol and apolipoprotein-B, which may explain in part the epidemiological observation that regular walnut consumption decreases coronary heart disease (CHD) risk. (37).

 FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

How do I know what my HDL level is?

A blood test can measure your cholesterol levels, including HDL. When and how often you should get this test depends on your age, risk factors, and family history. The general recommendations are:

For people who are age 19 or younger

The first test should be between ages 9 to 11

Children should have the test again every 5 years

Some children may have this test starting at age 2 if there is a family history of high blood cholesterol, heart attack, or stroke

For people who are age 20 or older

Younger adults should have the test every 5 years

Men ages 45 to 65 and women ages 55 to 65 should have it every 1 to 2 years (38,39,40)


HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is a type of cholesterol naturally found in the body and in some food you eat.

It is often referred to as “good” cholesterol because it absorbs other types of cholesterol (LDL, cholesterol, & Triglyceride) and carries them away from your arteries back to your liver.

Your body needs some cholesterol to work properly. But having too much cholesterol in your blood raises your risk of coronary artery disease. (1)

Healthy HDL cholesterol levels differ in males and female:

For women, HDL levels above 1.2mmol/L are thought to be healthy.

For men, HDL levels above 1.1mmol/L are thought to be healthy.  If you have anything lower than this your risk of coronary artery disease may be increasing.

Certain medications increase your HDL, such as prescription niacin; fibrates such as gemfibrozil (Lopid); and certain statins, particularly simvastatin (Zocor) and rosuvastatin (Crestor). But those increase your risk of heart disease in return.

However eating a heart-healthy diet, doing exercise, and quitting smoking and alcohol is the only ultimate way to increase your good cholesterol without having to compromise your health. 

I hope you get the value worth your time. I appreciate the time you spend with me. Leave a comment if you like this post. Do you have any questions as regards this topic I didn’t touch here? Feel free to share with me in the comment below.


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