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.

To continue reading this article, you must log in.

Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.

  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »

I'd like to receive access to Harvard Health Online for only $4.99 a month.

Sign Me Up

Already a member? Login ».


As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.

No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Free Healthbeat Signup

Get the latest in health news delivered to your inbox!

Sign Up
Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Thanks for visiting. Don't miss your FREE gift.

The Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness, is yours absolutely FREE when you sign up to receive Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Sign up to get tips for living a healthy lifestyle, with ways to fight inflammation and improve cognitive health, plus the latest advances in preventative medicine, diet and exercise, pain relief, blood pressure and cholesterol management, and more.

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Get helpful tips and guidance for everything from fighting inflammation to finding the best diets for weight loss...from exercises to build a stronger core to advice on treating cataracts. PLUS, the latest news on medical advances and breakthroughs from Harvard Medical School experts.

BONUS! Sign up now and
get a FREE copy of the
Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Stay on top of latest health news from Harvard Medical School.

Plus, get a FREE copy of the Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness.