You can increase HDL cholesterol through regular exercise, weight loss, and a healthy diet low in saturated fat. Moderate alcohol consumption may also help. The most effective dietary supplement that can increase HDL cholesterol is niacin, or vitamin B3, which should be taken with a doctor's supervision. Raising HDL scores is desirable because higher numbers are associated with a lower risk for heart disease.
One reliable way to increase HDL cholesterol is through regular aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise not only lifts HDL levels, but it also lowers levels of the bad cholesterol. It isn't clear why aerobic exercise has this effect, but it may have to do with increased cardiovascular health and improved circulation. Quitting smoking is another lifestyle choice that can increase good cholesterol and, like regular exercise, has many other benefits.
There are a number of dietary measures that may increase HDL cholesterol. One of the simplest is to avoid products containing trans fat, which has been shown to not only lower good cholesterol, but also raise levels of the so-called bad cholesterol. Avoiding refined carbohydrates may also help maintain healthy HDL levels. Refined carbohydrates and trans fats are commonly found in highly processed foods.
Replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can also help maintain good HDL levels. These fats are present in plant-derived cooking oils, avocados, and nuts. Broader dietary changes, such as adopting the Mediterranean or DASH diets, may also raise HDL levels and protect against heart disease.
One of the most common prescription drugs used to raise HDL levels is actually a form of vitamin B3, also called niacin. Niacin can raise HDL levels by as much as 20 percent, and possibly more in some individuals. It's very important to take niacin supplements in consultation with a doctor, despite the fact that they are available over the counter. Some forms of niacin can cause liver damage and other negative health effects.
In contrast to low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called bad cholesterol, HDL is sometimes called the good cholesterol. This is because high levels of LDL can cause cholesterol to be deposited on artery walls, making them narrower. On the other hand, it's beneficial to increase HDL cholesterol because it takes cholesterol from the body's tissues to the liver for eventual elimination. Cholesterol levels are measured in miligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). While it's unlikely that HDL levels can become too high, numbers less than 40 mg/dL for men and 50mg/dL for women are thought to contribute to heart disease.