How Cholesterol Works: HDL “Good Cholesterol” vs LDL “Bad Cholesterol”

cholesterol

How Cholesterol Works: HDL “Good Cholesterol” vs LDL “Bad Cholesterol”


While most people talk about cholesterol levels there is in fact more than one type of cholesterol. In fact, there are several different body functions and several different substances that make up our understanding of cholesterol. 

As with some fats, cholesterol cannot be dissolved in the blood. Instead, molecules called lipoproteins carry cholesterol to and from cells. Molecules are made from an outer layer of protein and an inner core of both cholesterol and triglycerides, which is another form of fat.

HDL Cholesterol vs LDL Cholesterol 

Lipoproteins equip the cholesterol to move around the body. The two main types of lipoproteins are:

  1. High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL)
  2. Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL) 

High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL) 

HDL transports cholesterol from cells back to the liver. HDL is either reused or converts to bile acids and disposed of. This is known as “good” cholesterol.

You want to ensure that your levels of this cholesterol remain high for optimum heart health, since having too low levels of HDL – even when other cholesterol levels are normal – may lead to heart problems.

As you work to lower your bad cholesterol it is important to also take steps and to keep your HDL levels normal.

HDL aids to ensure protection from the risk of heart attack and/or stroke. HDL consists of more protein than triglycerides or cholesterol, and aids to remove LDL from your artery walls.

Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL)

LDL carries approximately 60_70% of cholesterol around the body and is known as your “bad” cholesterol.

Studies show conclusively that high cholesterol leads to a much higher risk of heart attack and/or stroke. Other factors involved in this risk are age, gender, smoking, family history of heart disease, and diabetes mellitus.

Triglycerides

This is not cholesterol. It is the most common type of fat in your body. 

Triglycerides need to be monitored because elevated levels could lead to a build-up of plaque, which could lead to stroke or heart disease

How Is Total Cholesterol Measured? 

To measure your total cholesterol you need to take a blood test called a lipoprotein panel. This blood test also measures your triglycerides. 

Prior to this blood test, you are encouraged to fast for 9  to 12 hours. This means no eating or drinking anything before your blood test. 

The total cholesterol score is measured using the following formula: 

HDL level + LDL level + 20% of your triglyceride level. Add each of these up and you get your total cholesterol level. 

Total Cholesterol Ranges

Total Cholesterol  Level
Less than 200 mg/dL Desirable
200 – 239 mg/dL Borderline
240 mg/dL and above High

Conclusion

Obviously, when we speak of having cholesterol levels we mean more than one number. To maintain optimum health, you will need to know your levels of both LDL and HDL and will need to work hard to keep both levels in healthy ranges.

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Nick Bryant is a Counselor with 11 years of experience working in community health. He enjoys concerts, walks with the doggo and wife, mocking Dallas Cowboy fans, and sharing community resources. Jump on the Houston Case Managers email list to receive weekly community resource guides delivered directly to your inbox.

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