What Is the Difference Between LDL Cholesterol and HDL Cholesterol?

by Dr. David Williams
Filed Under: Cholesterol, Heart Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

LDL is “good,” HDL is “bad,” and triglycerides aren’t really cholesterol at all

Because cholesterol doesn’t dissolve well in the blood, it needs to attach itself to fatty protein to circulate through the body. When we talk about the specific types of cholesterol, we’re actually talking about the different types of proteins that carry the cholesterol molecules through the bloodstream.

These types are:

  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. LDL is one of the two most important fatty proteins (HDL is the other). LDL cholesterol is usually referred to as “bad” cholesterol because it deposits its cholesterol on the walls of arteries. LDL is also the type of cholesterol that becomes oxidized and damages the lining of your arteries, setting the stage for mineral and fat deposits.
  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Unlike LDL, HDL hangs on tightly to the cholesterol it carries and won’t let it get loose to attach to arterial walls. In some cases, it may even snatch up additional cholesterol already stuck to a wall, reducing the size of a plaque or buildup. HDL keeps cholesterol in solution and moves it safely throughout the body. For these reasons, HDL cholesterol is considered to be “good” cholesterol.
  • Beta-VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Beta-VLDL deposits cholesterol in the small arteries supplying the heart. It receives very little attention because it makes up only a small portion of the total blood cholesterol.

Though they’re not a form of cholesterol, triglycerides are a type of blood lipid that is often lumped together with cholesterol because many of the strategies for reducing triglyceride levels are the same as those for lowering cholesterol. High triglyceride levels are indicative of excess sugar in the diet, and often too much fat. The excess sugar is combined with the fat and typically stored around the gut (the “spare tire”) and around muscles (flabby arms).

More Dr. Williams Advice on Cholesterol

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