When your doctor spouts off your cholesterol levels in terms of LDL and HDL, does your brain shut off? You know in the back of your mind that one is good and one is bad, but which is which? And why is one better that the other? In order to understand the difference between LDL and HDL cholesterol, you need a basic understanding of how cholesterol works with and affects your body chemistry.
First, cholesterol in itself – whether LDL or HDL cholesterol – is not a bad thing. Although cholesterol is most well known for the role it plays in contributing to heart disease, it is actually a substance needed by and naturally produced by the body. For instance, cholesterol is responsible for building cell membranes and for maintaining the fluidity of these membranes. Cholesterol also plays an important part in helping to metabolize fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. Scientists also say cholesterol helps in the production of bile, which, in turn, helps to digest fat. Although we hear so much about how bad high cholesterol is for us, we need to keep in mind cholesterol is a needed component of the body.
Now, let’s clear up the question of which type of cholesterol is good and which is bad. What your doctor refers to as “good” cholesterol is the HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, cholesterol. Actually the term good cholesterol is slightly misleading since there are actually not two forms of cholesterol. It is actually the carrier that is good or bad. In the case of HDL cholesterol, it is carried by a high-density lipoprotein. Some experts believe this type of cholesterol is better for you because the HDL carrier takes cholesterol away from the heart to the liver where it is broken down and passed out of the body. Low-density lipoproteins, on the other hand, actually deposit cholesterol onto the walls of the arteries, thus increasing your risk for heart disease and heart attack.
Generally, your doctor will want your HDL cholesterol levels to stay above 40 mg/dl. Anything less than that puts you at greater risk for heart disease. Your LDL cholesterol, on the other hand, should stay below 100 mg/dl to be considered optimal. Higher levels of LDL cholesterol put you at a greater risk for heart disease or heart attack. This is especially so if you also have two or more other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Despite common knowledge, there is no “good” or “bad” cholesterol, there is just cholesterol. The carrier of the cholesterol – whether LDL or HDL – is what determines if the cholesterol is harmful to your heart or not. HDL cholesterol is taken away from the heart and therefore is considered “good.” LDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is the kind the builds up in your arteries and makes you more likely to develop heart disease. Next time your doctor discusses your good and bad cholesterol levels with you, you will know what he is talking about.