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What Causes Low HDL Cholesterol Levels?


Updated May 16, 2014

Question: What Causes Low HDL Cholesterol Levels?
Answer: Although having low triglycerides or LDL cholesterol can have a positive effect on your heart health, having low levels of HDL cholesterol could actually count against you. Your HDL, or “good," cholesterol removes excess cholesterol in the blood and can help to protect you against heart disease. Having low levels of HDL may place you at risk of getting coronary heart disease -- especially if other lipids in your blood are high, such as LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

There are some things, however, that could cause your HDL levels to be too low, such as:

When your HDL cholesterol levels fall below 40 mg/dL, you may need to take some measures to help raise them. Fortunately, many of these measures require just a few changes to your lifestyle. Some things you could do to boost your HDL cholesterol include:
  • Adding exercise to your daily routine
  • Losing weight, if you are overweight or obese
  • Smoking cessation
  • Getting your blood sugar levels under control, if you have diabetes
  • Modifying your diet to a healthier one, especially if you are consuming foods that are high in carbohydrates and saturated fat
If these measures do not help raise your HDL levels, your healthcare provider may decide to put you on medications that can help you, including niacin and fibrates. There are currently no medications on the market that can solely raise your HDL cholesterol levels. These medications, however, can also improve other aspects of your lipid panel, including lowering your LDL and triglyceride levels.


Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (PDF), July 2004, The National Institutes of Heath: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

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