How to Increase HDL Levels

So why would you want to increase your HDL? Of course, it is well-known that increasing HDL protects the heart and cardiovascular system. But what many guys do not realize is that low HDL levels are a risk factor for erectile dysfunction. For example, one 1994 study found that men with HDL > 60 had about a third of the risk of erection problems as men with HDL < 30! [1] And a more recent Chinese study also showed that increased HDL protected males from erectile dysfunction. [2]

How does HDL do it? HDL has the well-documented role of ushering cholesterol away from the lining of the arterteries into the liver where is can be re-used or ferried out of the body. But recent research has shown that HDL does much more than just this simple function. For example, researchers have found that it predicts cardiovascular disease completely independently of LDL. [9] In other words, the fact that HDL can pull away LDL from arterial walls is a relatively minor consideration. Furthermore, HDL was found as an important risk factor in males who developed arteriosclerosis at a relatively early age. [10]

So how does HDL work its magic? Recent studies have shown that increasing HDL raises Nitric Oxide, the stuff of erections and arterial health. In fact, Dr. Philip Shaul, an HDL researcher has stated that HDL "is the most potent stimulator of nitric-oxide production that we have found in the past decade [and] what we're realizing is that, not only is it a taxi, but that it hits the arterial walls, and it causes a dramatic response by the arterial walls to produce nitric oxide". 

HDL increases Nitric Oxide through several pathways, but the primary appears to be by directly raising eNOS levels, the enzyme responsible for creating Nitric Oxide. [11] This, in turn, has been shown in studies to increase vasodilation, meaning more blood flow into the penis area, and improved endothelial function, mean more blood flow into the penis area. Yes, this is good for your sex life! 

How does HDL do it?  HDL has the well-documented role of ushering cholesterol away from the lining of the arterteries into the liver where is can be re-used or ferried out of the body.  But recent studies have shown that increasing HDL does much more for both heart and penis:  it protects both by raising Nitric Oxide, the stuff of erections and arterial health.  In fact, Dr. Philip Shaul, an HDL researcher has stated that "HDL is the most potent stimulator of nitric-oxide production that we have found in the past decade [and] what we're realizing is that, not only is it a taxi, but that it hits the arterial walls, and it causes a dramatic response by the arterial walls to produce nitric oxide". 

CAUTION:  Now I do have one important caution:  if you go on a Low Fat Diet, you will probably find that your HDL will actually fall somewhat.  But LDL and total cholesterol fall as well as many other risk factors. In fact, those with cholesterol around 150 from a Low Fat Diet have almost no heart disease.  Furthermore, you will find that all the plant foods that are part of a Low Fat Diet will dramatically help your Nitric Oxide output.  So, in reality, raising HDL is really only critical if you are not willing to go on a Low Fat Diet.

How to Increase HDL

So, yes, HDL should be one of your dearest friends, especially those of us in middle age and fighting andropause or erectile dysfunction, and all of us guys should have the goal to increase our HDL.  So how can you  increase and raise HDL? 

Below are some easy steps backed by the research: 

1) Aerobic Exercise.  Aerobic exercise provides a significant increase in HDL levels.  And it should be pointed out that even moderate exercise provided these significant benefits. [3]  (Moderate exercise also lowered lowered the bad kind of LDL cholesterol that damages arteries.) 

2) Intense Exercise.  Intense exercise, the kind that makes you sweat and lose your breath, leads to steadily increasing HDL levels even in men in their late 50's according to one study, which concluded that "plasma high density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol concentration increased from 38 +/- 3 to 45 +/- 4 mg X dl-1 at 12 months and rose further to 53 +/- 5 mg X dl-1 at 6 years of follow-up (p less than 0.05)".   In other words, these men went from an average of 38 to an average of 45 after one year.  And, even more amazing, their HDL continued to increase even six years to an average level of 53. [4]

NEWS FLASH:  A recent Norwegian study found (at least in patients with Metabolic Syndrome) that exercising using a high-intensity technique called Interval Training led to increases in HDL in a sixteen week period, whereas regular aerobic exercise did not.  The participants did four cyles of 4-minute high intensity exercise at 90 percent of maximal heart rate (220 minus age) followed by a 3 minutes of rest. What is very remarkable is that these people only exercised 3 times per week to achive the increases in HDL. [17][18]

3) Cranberry Juice. One study found that (in obese men) moderate Cranberry Juice consumption significantly increased (almost 10%) HDL levels by drinking only 8 oz. daily. And don't forget about Cranberry's Many Anticancer Properties. [8]

4)  Smoking. Smoking, being overweight and trans-fatty acids are all associated with a lowering of HDL (and a hundred other nasty disorders and diseases). Most of us these things are bad for us and now you know they are bad for your HDL as well. Of course, do the opposite to increase your HDL.

5) Moderate Drinking. Drinking of one (or at most two) drinks/day has been shown to increase HDL. [6]  Do not drink more than one to two drinks per day.&  NOTE:  Do NOT drink more than that as Alcoholt as Alcohol can lead to a build up of estrogen, arguably enemy #1 for the adult male, and body fat which, in turn, leads to even greater estrogen levels. 

6) Soluble Fiber.  Soluble fiber, at least 2 servings per day, increases HDL levels.  By the way, soluble fiber is what is found in oats and various fruits and vegetables.

7) Monunsaturated Fats.  Monounsatured fats, such as those found in olive oil olive and the Mediterranean Diet, increase HDL. However, one should read my Olive Oil Cautions

8) Hazelnuts.  Turkish researchers found that hazelnuts (although any nut such as almonds, pecans, etc. should work almost as well) increased HDL levels (by about 8%) in a 2002 study published online. [5]

9) Walnuts.  In 2004 researchers found that walnuts increased HDL, alt least in men with type 2 diabetics. [12]  (Walnuts have also been found to lower LDL and protect you somewhat from the effects of a high fat meal.)

10) Cortisol Reduction.  Increases in cortisol will lower your HDL. [14] In other words, as cortisol goes up, your HDL goes down.  See this link on How to Reduce Cortisol and Stress for more details.

11) Laughter.  Laughter does a good a good job of reducing stress hormones and so it's no wonder that it also has a study under its belt showing that it can raise HDL (at least in diabetic patients). [15] HDL rose very significantly, 26%, in the "laughter cohort".

12) Sugar Reduction. Watch out for sugar, especially fructose.  Several studies have shown a as consumption of sugar goes up, HDL goes down. [7]

13) Tran Fat Reduction. These bad boys do a lot of nasty things to you body and one of them is lowering HDL. So forget the chips, the fries, the donuts - they'll never change the oil fast enough to keep the trans fats out of their products!

14) Berries.  A 2008 study showed that moderate berry consumption resulted in increased HDL (and decreased blood pressure) in a group of middle subjects. [16]

15) Curcumin.  This component of turmeric (and part of curry and yellow mustard) increased HDL by 29% in one human study using 500 mg/day. [19] It also lowered cholesterol.  Curcumin also has anti-inflammatory powers and probably protects against prostate cancer.

16) Tomato.  One recent study looked at men and women with normal triglycerides but lowish HDL and gave them two uncooked roma tomatoes.  That's not much tomato, but the researchers found that it significantly boosted HDL by about 14%. [20] Not a bad boost for one simple change.  And tomatoes are good for the prostate as well!

CAUTION: Diabetics beware:  increased HDL has actually been found to be damaging to diabetics in one study.  HDL, in the diabetic alone, binds to myristic acid which actually decreases Nitric Oxide.  And, of course, we don't want decreased Nitric Oxide, now do we?  So, diabetics, proceed carefully and talk to your doctor.



1) Am J Epidemiol 1994,(140)930-7

2) Zhonghua Nan Ke Xue. 2005 Feb;11(2):112-5

3) Jour Appl Physio, 2007, 203:432-442; Experimental Biol and Med,2003,228:434-440;Archives Intern Med,2007,167:999-1008

4) J Am Coll Cardiol,1987,10:321-326


6) Diabetologia, Oct 2004,(47)10:1760-1767(8)

7) The Sugar Fix, Ricard J. Johnson, M.D., 2008,  p. 49-50

8) Brit J of Nutr, 2006, 96:357-364

9) Circulation, 2000, 102:III90-III94

10) Arteriosclerosis, 1988, 8:737-741 11) Nat Med, 2001, 7:853-857;J Biol Chem, 2002, 277:11058-11063

11) Nat Med, 2001, 7:853-857;J Biol Chem, 2002, 277:11058-11063

12) Am J Clin Nutr, 2001,74:72-79, Almario RU, et. al, "Effects of walnut consumption on plasma fatty acids and lipoproteins in combined hyperlipidemia"

13)  Men's Health, Sep. 2009, p. 42.

14) Intl J of Obesity, 2004, 28:1168–1173, Published online 22 June 2004, "Central adiposity and cortisol responses to waking in middle-aged men and women"

15) Presented at the 122nd Annual Meeting of the American Physiological Society, Apri 18-22 New Orleans Experimental Biology 2009 scientific conference, "Mirthful Laughter, As Adjunct Therapy in Diabetic Care, Increases HDL Cholesterol and Attenuates Inflammatory Cytokines and hs-CRP and Possible CVD Risk", Birk, Tan.

16) American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Feb 2008, Vol. 87(2):323-331, "Favorable effects of berry consumption on platelet function, blood pressure, and HDL cholesterol"


18), International Symposium on Atherosclerosis, June 21, 2006, Rome, Italy, Poster 369, "Reversing the metabolic syndrome with high-intensity training"

19) Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 1992, 36(4):273-275, "Effect of oral curcumin administration on serum peroxides and cholesterol levels in human volunteers"

20) Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes, 2013 Jul 26, 6:263-73, "Effect of tomato consumption on high-density lipoprotein cholesterol level: a randomized, single-blinded, controlled clinical trial"