What Causes Low HDL Cholesterol?


Quick Answer

Being overweight, smoking and not getting enough physical activity may contribute to low HDL levels, according to Mayo Clinic. For men, an HDL level below 40 milligrams per deciliter is considered low, and for women, a level below 50 milligrams per deciliter is considered low.

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Full Answer

Both men and women should aim for an HDL level above 60 milligrams per deciliter, according to Mayo Clinic. Higher levels of HDL, also known as good cholesterol, have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. HDL particles work as scavengers, carrying cholesterol out of the arteries and back to the liver, where it can be broken down. This prevents cholesterol from clogging the arteries.

Patients who smoke can increase their HDL levels by up to 10 percent just by quitting smoking, explains Mayo Clinic. Losing extra weight also helps increase HDL. For every 6 pounds a patient loses, HDL levels increase by about 1 milligram per deciliter. Patients who lose weight through healthy diet and exercise are likely to experience an even more dramatic increase in HDL levels, since being more active is associated with higher HDL. Mayo Clinic recommends walking briskly for 30 minutes 5 times per week in order to raise HDL levels. Choosing foods that are high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, but low in saturated fats, also helps improve HDL levels. Nuts, fish, olive oil and canola oil are all good choices.

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