What Is The Difference Between Good Cholesterol And Bad Cholesterol?
Most of us know that high cholesterol doesn’t necessarily improve heart health, but is it really as bad as it sounds? The truth is that cholesterol is not good or bad, but somewhere in between. In fact, cholesterol is vital to your body – in healthy doses. It is used to make and maintain cells and hormones, such as estrogen, steroids and vitamin D, and to support digestion.
In the United States, high cholesterol has been a major health concern. Nationwide, about 95 million adults suffer from high cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. However, our bodies produce cholesterol naturally, and it is found in many foods, including those that are part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Understanding the different types of cholesterol is key to achieving this goal. There are “good” and “bad” cholesterol, but the difference between the two may not be obvious. Knowing the difference will help you understand the results of your next lipid test and make it easier to manage your cholesterol.
Cholesterol – or the fatty substance in cells – is divided into two different types: HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein). Here’s what you need to know about both.
What is cholesterol and why is it important?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance that is found in blood cells throughout the body. Also called lipids, cholesterol, like triglycerides, is the main type of fat found in the blood and body tissues.
High levels of fats, such as triglycerides and cholesterol, can lead to fatty deposits and plaque buildup in the arteries. Over time, this can narrow arteries, raise blood pressure and increase the risk of blood clots and heart disease.
What is good cholesterol?
Cholesterol circulates in the blood as special proteins called “lipoproteins”. One of these lipoproteins is called HDL (high-density lipoprotein) HDL absorbs cholesterol and carries it to the liver, where it is excreted by the body.
HDL plays an important role in reducing the amount of “bad” cholesterol in your blood, protecting you from risks such as heart disease and stroke. High cholesterol levels are a health problem in themselves, but HDL cholesterol levels can also be too low. You need HDL to keep your blood cholesterol healthy.
What is bad cholesterol?
Cholesterol is also spread as low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as “bad cholesterol”. LDL makes up the majority of cholesterol in the body.
When LDL cholesterol is high, plaque builds up in the blood vessels. This causes arteries to narrow and harden, preventing blood from flowing to the heart and other organs. The long-term effects of high LDL cholesterol can be very serious, including stroke and heart disease.
While you are likely genetically predisposed to high cholesterol, your lifestyle and habits usually play a role. Common factors include poor diet and lack of exercise. The risk increases with age, and other health problems, such as diabetes, can also increase the risk.
What can I do about my bad cholesterol?
Your lifestyle is a start. For example, you can reduce your salt intake and include healthy fats in your diet, such as avocados, fish and nuts. If you’re overweight, exercise can help you lose weight, control your cholesterol and improve your circulation. Your lifestyle habits can also affect your cholesterol, so you should drink alcohol in moderation (if you do) and stop smoking in all forms.
Depending on the condition, medications that lower bad cholesterol or increase good cholesterol (statins, niacin, fibrates, etc.) may be recommended. These medications are most effective when combined with lifestyle changes.
What is the difference between HDL and LDL?
These two types of cholesterol are essentially the same, but they differ in one important way.
HDL (high-density lipoprotein): Also known as good cholesterol, HDL helps transport cholesterol to the liver. The liver, a powerful digestive system, processes the excess cholesterol and removes it from the body.
Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL): Also known as bad cholesterol, LDL carries cholesterol into the arteries. Instead of being excreted from the body, excess cholesterol builds up along the artery walls, causing a buildup.
What are the main causes of cholesterol?
Cholesterol, an essential component of cells, produces virtually all the cholesterol needed for the body to function. However, most people consume large amounts of cholesterol from external sources such as the diet. Again, knowing the difference will help you understand the results of your next lipid test and make it easier to manage your cholesterol. The main causes of high cholesterol include
- High-fat foods: eating whole, red meat and dairy products.
- Lack of exercise: Regular exercise helps lower cholesterol.
- Excess weight: excess weight can raise cholesterol levels.
- Underlying health conditions: Diabetes and thyroid disease can affect thyroid levels.
How do I know my cholesterol levels?
Usually, high cholesterol levels do not cause any noticeable symptoms. This means that the only way to find out if your levels are really high is to work with your doctor to get tested. A cholesterol test is a simple blood test that checks levels of HDL, LDL and triglycerides.
When performing a cholesterol test, also known as a lipid test, the ideal level or measurement is .
- HDL: 55mg/dL or more for women｜45mg/dL or more for men.
- LDL: less than 130 mg/dL
- Triglycerides: less than 150mg/dL
The ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol can also help you know if you are getting enough good cholesterol and if you are limiting the sources of bad cholesterol. It can be measured by dividing total cholesterol by HDL.
What can I do to prevent high cholesterol?
Many lifestyle factors can affect your cholesterol levels. To prevent low cholesterol levels, exercise regularly and eat heart-healthy foods such as fresh vegetables, whole grains and lean meats (such as chicken and fish).
Should I see a cardiologist if my cholesterol is high?
If your cholesterol levels are high, you should make an appointment with a cardiologist, especially if you have a family history of heart disease. The best way to prevent and treat high cholesterol is to work with a trusted cardiologist who understands your unique heart health condition.