Monitoring and learning to control cholesterol is a goal for many people that want to reduce their risk of a heart attack. However, there is not just one type of “cholesterol”. What is the difference between LDL vs. HDL cholesterol? How does each affect your health? What are good numbers for both?
While total cholesterol is important, it is more important to know what makes up that total number. The two biggest components are HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol). These are the two components that doctors are most interested in when assessing your risk of heart attack.
First of all, HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein. It is made up of mostly protein but also has some fat, phospholipids, and carries some cholesterol. HDL is very dense.
Why is HDL considered good cholesterol?
HDL travels through the bloodstream after being produced in the liver. As it travels it picks up excess cholesterol. It then carries this excess cholesterol back to the liver where it is used as a building block for bile. By using the cholesterol to create bile there is less in your arteries that can cause blockage. Therefore, HDL is considered good since it helps to reduce cholesterol in the bloodstream.
What are good numbers for HDL cholesterol?
When your doctor gives you a blood test for cholesterol you will likely get two numbers, one for total cholesterol and the other for HDL. Average is around 40-60 mg/dL. With HDL you want the number to be as high as possible. Therefore, a number higher than 60 mg/dL is great. A number under 40 mg/dL is not good. This means that there is less HDL ridding your blood of cholesterol.
How can you increase your HDL?
Quit smoking – Not only does smoking increase your total cholesterol level, but it reduces your HDL.
Exercise – The American Heart Association states that exercise can increase the amount of HDL in your blood.
Lose Weight – Studies also show that long-term weight loss can decrease total cholesterol while raising HDL levels.
What is LDL cholesterol?
LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein. It also consists of protein and some fat, but LDL also contains a lot of cholesterol.
Why is LDL considered bad cholesterol?
In general, LDL is not bad – it is having too much LDL is when the problems begin. LDL carries cholesterol through the blood and delivers it to cells that need it to build things such as hormones or fat. The problem is that LDL is soft enough to get into the walls of your arteries. This can lead to a process that builds up plaque in the arteries, eventually leading to a heart attack.
What are good numbers for LDL?
Most standard blood tests do not include LDL levels. If you doctor is concerned that you may have high LDL cholesterol it is possible that you will receive a blood test that includes this number. Your goal is to have a number that is less than 100 mg/dL, though 100-129 mg/dL is optimal. A number that is 160 mg/dL or higher is considered as high, with a number greater than 190 mg/dL being very high.
How can you decrease your LDL levels?
The best and safest way to decrease LDL cholesterol is through your diet. Without going into specific detail, if you decrease saturated fats and increase fiber in your diet you should notice a significant drop in your LDL level. There are prescription drugs (statins and bile acid sequestors) that work well, but as with most drugs, you will face possible side effects.