Understanding the Difference Between LDL Cholesterol and HDL Cholesterol

In order to understand the differences between LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol, it is important to understand what cholesterol is. Cholesterol, a lipid or fat, circulates in the bloodstream. Human beings consume cholesterol in foods. In addition, your liver can manufacture cholesterol. Your liver is also responsible for removing cholesterol in the form of chylomicron, a combination of cholesterol and protein, from your blood.

What is LDL cholesterol?
LDL cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol, helps cholesterol to deposit on the walls of arteries. This cholesterol can become hard and thick and can lead to atherosclerosis, or thickening and hardening artery walls. LDL cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein, can also accumulate in arteries leading to the brain.

What is HDL cholesterol?
HDL cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein, is the "good" cholesterol. HDL cholesterol helps remove the cholesterol plaque on arterial walls and removes cholesterol from the body through the liver. Having a high ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol is a good thing.

LDL and HDL cholesterol
Cholesterol is measured as a ratio of milligrams, or mg, of cholesterol to deciliters, or dl, of blood. According to the Mayo Clinic, total cholesterol ratios:

  • Should be below 200 mg/dl
  • 200 to 239 mg/dl ratio is borderline high
  • 240 mg/dl or larger is considered to be high.

HDL cholesterol ratios:

  • Should be 60 mg/dl or more
  • 40 to 50 mg/dl are considered to be better
  • Below 40 mg/dl are thought to be poor

Levels of LDL cholesterol:

  • 100 to 129 mg/dl is near optimal, the target for most people.
  • 130 to 159 mg/dl is borderline high
  • 160 to 189 mg/dl is high
  • 190 mg/dl or more is considered to be very high

In addition, the Mayo Clinic suggests that you maintain an LDL level below 100 mg/dl if you are at risk of getting heart disease and below 70 mg/dl if you have a very high risk of developing heart disease.

It is important to have your cholesterol levels checked on a periodic basis per your physician's instructions. Should test results indicate that you have too much cholesterol in your blood, your physician may make several lifestyle-change suggestions. These suggestions might include:

  • Changing your diet to include less animal products, such as milk and meat, and more plant products. Plant products do not contain any cholesterol, unlike animal products.
  • Increasing your physical activity. People who exercise daily for roughly 30 minutes tend to have higher levels of HDL cholesterol than people who do not consistently exercise. As an added bonus, you will ultimately loose weight and feel better.
  • Quitting smoking.

There is an active debate on the benefits of alcohol in reducing cholesterol levels. Some studies show that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol may increase your HDL cholesterol levels slightly and have other health benefits as well. Some experts feel that risks outweigh the benefits.

Your physician may also prescribe medication to treat your cholesterol levels.

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