• HDL is the "good" cholesterol in the bloodstream. The American Heart Association says that high HDL protects against heart attacks, while low levels increase the risk of heart disease.

    What is cholesterol?

    According to Dr. Mathew McIntosh, Ph.D., cholesterol's purpose is repairing blood vessels and damaged nerves. Eighty percent is produced by the liver, while 20 percent comes from the foods you eat.

    HDL vs. LDL

    HDLs and LDLs carry cholesterol through the blood stream. HDLs, smaller and more compact, pass more easily, transporting the cholesterol back to the liver. LDLs are larger and get "stuck" along the way.


    As HDLs decrease, LDLs increase and irritate the walls of vessels as they pass. Plaque forms to repair the damage, causing arteries to harden and passageways to narrow.

    Increasing HDL

    Diet and exercise are main factors in raising HDL. Reducing carbohydrates, proteins, saturated and trans fats; increasing fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy; and substituting fish for red meats are good choices. 30 minutes of moderate exercise five or more days each week also helps.

    Other Factors

    Smoking, stress, and certain medications effect HDL levels. Estrogen also has an impact, helping protect younger women from heart disease. This diminishes as the amount of estrogen in the body decreases.


    Dr. Mathew McIntosh, Ph.D., Dean of Health Sciences, Owens Community College

    American Heart Association

    Know Your HDL

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