HDL cholesterol is known as the ‘good’ cholesterol. A study in the late 1970’s known as the Framingham Study determined that higher levels of HDL cholesterol were protective against heart disease. This is one of those studies that is foundational to a lot of cardiovascular health prevention ideas still today.[ref]  The general consensus seems to be that HDL levels above 60 mg/dl are ‘good’ and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, there are a few recent studies showing that you can have too much of a good thing, and HDL levels over 116 mg/dL for men or 135 mg/dL for women cause an increase in the risk of heart disease.[ref]

HDL cholesterol also plays a role in the immune system, with higher levels of HDL associated with better outcomes from parasites and bacterial infections.[ref]

HDL cholesterol levels are considered to be about half due to genes (with the rest due to diet,  infection, etc.).[ref][ref]

CETP gene:
Check your 23andMe data for rs1800777 (v4, v5):

  • AA: lower HDL [ref] increased sepsis risk[ref]
  • AG: lower HDL, increased sepsis risk
  • GG: normal HDL

Check your 23andMe data for rs5882 (v4, v5):

  • AA: lower HDL
  • AG: higher HDL
  • GG: higher HDL

LPL gene:

Check your 23andMe data for rs326 (v4, v5):

  • AA: normal HDL
  • AG: lower HDL
  • GG: lower HDL[ref][ref]

LIPC gene:

Check your 23andMe for rs4775065 (v4 only):

  • AA: lower HDL[ref]
  • AG: normal HDL
  • GG: normal HDL


If you are wanting to raise your HDL levels, there are several dietary interventions you could try:

Olive Oil: High-phenolic olive oil was found in a study to increase HDL cholesterol.[ref] How do you find out what the phenolic content of your olive oil is? That turns out to be a more difficult question to answer than I thought it would be and has now taken me down the rabbit trail of reading about olive oil fraud…  This article explains that high phenolic content olive oil will have a peppery aftertaste that makes you want to cough.

Low Carb Diet: A very low carb, high fat (but low saturated fat) diet increased HDL cholesterol levels in participants.[ref] This is quite possibly due to increased olive oil consumption, though, since the participants were avoiding saturated fat as well as carbs.

Exercise: Aerobic exercise has been shown to increase HDL levels (a little bit).[ref][ref]

Anthocyanin: A double-blind placebo-controlled study of people with high cholesterol showed that taking a 160mg/day supplement of anthocyanin decreased LDL and increased HDL after 24 weeks. [ref] Anthocyanins are found in red, purple, and blue fruits and vegetables. You can eat lots of blueberries and cherries, or you could supplement with them.  Better yet, you could eat dried blueberries. Yum! A study showed that blueberries plus exercise increase HDL cholesterol more than exercise alone.[ref]

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