Harvard Men's Health Watch

HDL cholesterol, Part II

How to get more of a good thing

Doctors call it high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, but most people know it as the "good" cholesterol. By any name, HDL cholesterol protects the heart and circulation. For years, scientists have attributed its benefit to the scavenger effect, or reverse cholesterol transport. Indeed, HDL can remove harmful LDL ("bad") cholesterol deposits from the walls of vulnerable arteries, then deliver the LDL to the liver for disposal from the body. But research shows that HDL is even better than we thought. In addition to its LDL removal function, it has protective antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticlotting properties. It also improves endothelial function, allowing arteries to widen when tissues need more oxygen-rich blood.

The higher your HDL cholesterol, the lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. A level of 40 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is desirable, but levels above 60 mg/dL are optimal. Unfortunately, over 35% of American men have low HDLs.

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