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Why Is My Good Cholesterol Low

What Causes Low Hdl Cholesterol

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There are many reasons why some people have low HDL and others have high HDL. Genes appear to play the most important role by determining how much HDL cholesterol your body makes and the proportion of different subtypes.

Lifestyle choices also affect HDL levels. Smoking, carrying too many pounds, and lack of physical activity tend to lower HDL. So does a diet high in refined carbohydrates . Medications such as beta blockers, anabolic steroids, progestins, and benzodiazepines can also depress HDL.

I Just Learned I Have High Cholesterol Now What

You may feel upset to learn you have high cholesterol. But now that you know about it, you can take action to lower your numbers.

Follow your providers guidance on how to lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. Some general tips include:

  • Add more exercise to your daily routine.
  • Avoid smoking and all tobacco products.
  • Keep a weight thats healthy for you.
  • Learn how food impacts your cholesterol, and start with small changes to your diet.
  • Learn new strategies for dealing with stress.
  • Take your medications as prescribed.

Most of all, dont blame yourself. High cholesterol is a common condition that can be hard to control through lifestyle choices alone. And many factors beyond our control limit the choices we can make.

Be kind to yourself, and remember that your cholesterol numbers dont define you as a person. They simply give you a window into whats happening inside your body. Your provider will help you use that information to plan your treatment and keep your arteries healthy for a long time to come.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/28/2022.


Are Test Results Accurate

HDL cholesterol testing is extremely common and frequently used to evaluate cardiovascular risk. Like any test, though, HDL cholesterol tests are not perfectly accurate. Certain factors that can influence accuracy of any single test include:

  • Individual variability: There can be some differences in HDL cholesterol levels based on individual factors like stress or posture during the test. Minor variation can also occur between laboratories.
  • Acute illness: Levels of cholesterol in the blood are affected by inflammation, so infections or other illnesses that produce inflammation may interfere with the accuracy of HDL cholesterol tests.
  • Certain blood disorders: Some conditions that affect blood cells cause an increase in a type of protein, known as an M protein, in the blood. In people with these conditions, HDL cholesterol tests may show a lower level of HDL cholesterol than is actually present in their blood.

Point-of-care and at-home tests that use a fingerstick blood sample are nearly as accurate as laboratory testing, but there may be more variability in accuracy based on the brand and the quality of its test.

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Questions For Your Doctor About Test Results

Talking with your doctor can provide the most detailed information about your HDL cholesterol test results. Some of the following questions may be useful in obtaining detailed explanations from your physician:

  • What was my HDL cholesterol level? Is that level healthy for me?
  • Were any other types of cholesterol measured? If so, what were the results of those measurements?
  • Do I have risk factors for cardiovascular disease?
  • Should I have another cholesterol test? If so, when?
  • Are there any other tests that you recommend to evaluate my cardiovascular health?
  • Do you recommend any lifestyle changes or treatments to reduce my risk of cardiovascular disease?

Other Ways To Improve Your Hdl

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In addition to nutrition, lifestyle changes that can raise your HDL include physical activity, smoking cessation and weight loss, Dr. Sullivan says.

Moderate physical activity is good for your overall health, but it can specifically help raise HDL. If you arent currently physically active, begin working toward at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week.

A good place to start is just to start sitting less and moving more, Dr. Sullivan says.

Smoking cigarettes is associated with low HDL levels. So quitting smoking can allow your HDL cholesterol to return to a healthier level and reduce your risk of heart disease.

Moderate weight loss even just 5 to 10 percent of your current weight has been shown to improve cholesterol levels along with blood pressure and blood sugar.

Work on making small changes with your nutrition and activity routines. For example, swap out sugary drinks for water, try taking a short walk during a break, Dr. Sullivan says.

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Ways To Raise Hdl Cholesterol

Navigating the world with high cholesterol may sometimes feel next to impossible against the endless choices you must make every day. But if you follow these rules, your cholesterol levels may improve but just the good kind.

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Youve probably heard of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol the good and the bad, respectively. But did you know there are effective ways you can raise HDL cholesterol levels and protect your heart health?

HDL cholesterol carries excess cholesterol to your liver so it doesnt build up in your bloodstream. But when LDL cholesterol moves cholesterol throughout your body, it can build up in the walls of the arteries, making them hard and narrow. If you have too little HDL cholesterol and too much LDL, you may be diagnosed with high cholesterol, a condition that can lead to atherosclerosis, angina , heart attack, and stroke.

Read on to find ways to boost HDL cholesterol and the evidence behind them.

What Is Hdl Cholesterol

High-density lipoprotein is a protective form of cholesterol. It carries bad cholesterol away from the arteries and into the liver. There, it can be broken down and eliminated from the body.

Your risk of a heart attack or heart disease is lower when your HDL is high. That’s about 60 milligrams per deciliter or higher. When your HDL is low, your chances of having a heart attack or heart disease are increased. For women, that’s less than 50 mg/dl and for men, less than 40 mg/dl.

Here are several types of foods you should consider eating more often to raise your HDL and lower your LDL.

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What Are The Different Types Of Cholesterol

There are two types: high-density lipoprotein and low-density lipoprotein . As a general rule, HDL is considered good cholesterol, while LDL is considered bad. This is because HDL carries cholesterol to your liver, where it can be removed from your bloodstream before it builds up in your arteries. LDL, on the other hand, takes cholesterol directly to your arteries. This can result in atherosclerosis, a plaque buildup that can even cause heart attack and stroke.

Triglycerides make up the third component of cholesterol and act as unused calories that are stored as fat in the blood. Eating more calories than you burn can cause triglycerides to build up in the bloodstream, increasing your risk for heart attacks.

Hdl Vs Ldl Cholesterol

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HDL cholesterol contains a higher proportion of protein and is made up of substances that dont lead to plaque buildup in your arteries. High-density cholesterol also carries LDL cholesterol away from the arteries back to the liver, where its broken down and eliminated from the body.

On the other hand, LDL cholesterol has a higher cholesterol and lower protein composition. When theres an excess of LDL cholesterol from consuming a diet high in calories and fat, excess LDL cholesterol seeps through artery walls and oxidizes .

When oxidation occurs, macrophages consume the oxidized LDL cholesterol in the artery wall and die, leading to inflammation in the artery walls. The body is then triggered to block the increasing macrophage by creating tissue in the artery walls called plaque, resulting in atherosclerosis.

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Have A Glass Of Wine Or Not

Drinking in moderation might increase good cholesterol levels. At least thats what some of the research says. A review published in October 2019 in the journal Molecules concluded drinking red wine , which contains the antioxidant compound resveratrol, may have a protective effect on the heart, but more research is required to understand the mechanisms involved. But you dont have to have a glass of vino to boost your HDL cholesterol. Antioxidants found in red wine can also be found in fruits such as blueberries, grape juice, dark chocolate, and peanuts.

If you decide to drink, remember to do so in moderation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends one drink or less a day for women, and two drinks or less a day for men.

Add Coconut Oil To The Diet

Studies have shown that coconut oil may reduce appetite, increase metabolic rate, and help protect brain health, among other benefits.

Some people may be concerned about coconut oils effects on heart health due to its high saturated fat content. However, it appears that coconut oil is actually quite heart-healthy.

Some studies have shown that coconut oil tends to raise HDL cholesterol more than many other types of fat.

In addition, some studies have shown that coconut oil may improve the ratio of low-density lipoprotein , or bad, cholesterol to HDL cholesterol. Improving this ratio reduces heart disease risk .

One study examined the health effects of coconut oil consumption in 40 females with excess abdominal fat. The researchers found that those who took coconut oil daily had increased HDL cholesterol and a lower LDL-to-HDL ratio.

In contrast, the group who took soybean oil daily had a decrease in HDL cholesterol and an increase in the LDL-to-HDL ratio .

However, more recent reviews suggest that the research into coconut oil and cholesterol is of poor quality, is not conclusive, and often reports that coconut oil can raise the levels of LDL cholesterol. Therefore, more research is needed .

Most studies have found that these health benefits occur at a dosage of about 2 tbsp of coconut oil per day. It is best to incorporate this into cooking rather than eating spoonfuls of coconut oil on their own.

Recommended Reading: How To Calculate Ldl From Total Cholesterol And Triglycerides

What Are The Causes Of Low Cholesterol

What is low cholesterol? In simple terms, a low level means less than 40 milligrams per deciliter of HDL. Now that we have described low cholesterol, we can outline what causes low cholesterol. Sometimes, it can be an inherited condition, but the following list includes the main hypocholesterolemia causes:

What Are Good Levels For The Hdl Cholesterol

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A cholesterol test or lipid panel tells the level of HDL cholesterol. What do the numbers mean?

In general, people with high HDL are at lower risk for heart disease. People with low HDL are at higher risk.

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What Causes Low Hdl Cholesterol Levels

There are many causes for low HDL cholesterol levels.

Uncontrolled diabetes: High glucose levels can lower HDL cholesterol. Proper management of diabetes can help return your HDL cholesterol back into a healthy range.

Smoking: Chemicals in cigarettes can lower HDL cholesterol, while cessation can bring it back up.

Lack of physical activity: Even moderate physical activity has been found to give your HDL cholesterol levels a boost all you need is 30 minutes a day.

Excess weight: Being overweight can lower your HDL cholesterol levels. Shedding a few pounds can help.

Genetics: Sometimes, low HDL cholesterol levels can be hereditary. There are genetic disorders that cause low HDL cholesterol as well.

Stress: Long-term stress can negatively impact HDL cholesterol levels. Stress-induced sleep loss can further decrease your HDL.

Poor eating habits: A diet high in refined foods and sugar can contribute to high levels of LDL cholesterol.

What To Do If Your Hdl Level Is 34

  • Be active every day. Aim for 30-60 minutes of exercise 5x/week.
  • Eat more fiber-rich foods, especially beans and whole grains.
  • Avoid trans fats, like hydrogenated oils, and limit saturated fats.
  • Eat small, fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel at least twice a week.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese.
  • Manage stress and get adequate sleep since stress triggers inflammation that can lower HDL.

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Hdl: The Good But Complex Cholesterol

More HDL cholesterol is better, but the benefits may depend on how you get there.

In the simplest telling of the cholesterol story, HDL fights LDL . Like knights in shining armor, HDL particles patrol the blood vessels, snatching cholesterol from circulating LDL particles and from the dangerous, gooey plaque that lines artery walls. The knights of the HDL cholesterol carry their fatty cargo to the liver for recycling or disposal.

The real story isn’t quite so simple. HDL cholesterol is turning out to be a much more complex substance than we once believed. Instead of a single kind of particle, HDL cholesterol is a family of different particles. Although they all contain lipids , cholesterol, and proteins called apolipoproteins, some types are spherical while others are doughnut-shaped. Some types of HDL are great at plucking cholesterol from LDL and artery walls while other types are indifferent to cholesterol, and some even transfer cholesterol the wrong way into LDL and cells.

To further complicate matters, different HDL types do more than just carry cholesterol. Some protect LDL from being chemically altered by oxygen, a change that makes LDL extra harmful to artery walls. Under some circumstances, though, they can do just the opposite. Various HDL particles can ease inflammation in artery walls, stimulate production of nitric oxide, a molecule that helps artery walls relax, and help prevent blood clots from forming inside arteries.

Myth: I Dont Need Statins Or Other Medicines For My Cholesterol I Can Manage My Cholesterol With Diet And Exercise

Why High LDL is GOOD & Low Cholesterol is BAD

Fact: Although many people can achieve good cholesterol levels by making healthy food choices and getting enough physical activity, some people may also need medicines called statins to lower their cholesterol levels. Guidelinesexternal icon also suggest that other medicines in addition to statins may be needed to help control cholesterol.2

People who may need statins or other medicines to manage cholesterol levels include the following:

  • People with familial hypercholesterolemia or people with very high levels of bad cholesterol. FH is a genetic condition that causes very high LDL cholesterol levels beginning at a young age. If left untreated, cholesterol levels will continue to get worse. This greatly raises the risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke at a young age.
  • People with cardiovascular disease . People with CVD may already have narrowed arteries because of too much plaque. Medicines that lower cholesterol may help reduce the risk for heart attack or stroke.
  • People with diabetes.Type 2 diabetes lowers HDL or good cholesterol levels and raises bad cholesterol levels. This combination raises your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Other groups of people may also need medicines to manage their cholesterol, including people who have a high risk for CVD. Always talk to your health care provider about the best ways to manage your cholesterol.

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Whats Considered High Cholesterol

High cholesterol generally means your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or higher. But providers use additional categories like borderline high and near optimal to break down your results. If your numbers are close to normal levels, they may be easier to manage through lifestyle and dietary changes.

High cholesterol levels by age chart

The chart below shows cholesterol levels that are higher than normal. All units are mg/dL.


Very high: 190 or higher

Two Types Of Cholesterol

After your provider checks your cholesterol, you will see a few numbers on your lab report. One of them is your total cholesterol. This looks at all the different types of cholesterol levels in your body. Here well look at two main types: HDL and LDL.

People often call high-density lipoprotein the good cholesterol. This is because its job is to bring bad cholesterol to the liver so your body can remove it. High levels of HDL help decrease your heart disease risk. Here are the recommended levels of HDL to get heart health benefits:

  • For males: over 40 mg/dL

  • For females: over 50 mg/dL

The other type of cholesterol low-density lipoprotein is your bad cholesterol. Thats because it can damage blood vessels, causing coronary artery disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease. Lowering your LDL can decrease your risk of heart disease.

So how low does your LDL need to be to get heart health benefits? For people at low risk of heart disease, the LDL goal is less than 100 mg/dl. For those at high risk, or those with diabetes and/or heart disease, the goal is less than 70 mg/dl.

It can be difficult to remember the target levels of HDL versus LDL. Heres a simple way to remember the goals for each: Aim high for HDL. Aimlow for LDL.

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High Cholesterol: Prevention Treatment And Research

Cholesterol is a natural component in everyones blood. However, when you have too much of this fatty substance, its considered hyperlipidemia, hypercholesterolemia or high blood cholesterola major risk factor for heart attack, heart disease and stroke. About 71 million Americans have high cholesterol.

How Do You Know If Your Cholesterol Is A Concern

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High cholesterol often doesnt announce itself early with a tell-tale sign. You might learn you have troubling numbers only after having a heart attack or a stroke.

Healthy adults should have their cholesterol checked through a blood test every four to six years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . Testing should be more frequent if you or your family has a history of heart disease or diabetes.

Its not just adults who should be tested, either. The CDC also recommends that children have their cholesterol checked at least once between ages 9 and 11. The agency also recommends a test between ages 17 and 21.

Tests results can open discussions with your doctor about unique risk enhancers such as:

  • Family history, which could lead to a second test to find your Lipoprotein, or Lp, level.

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