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What’s the Difference Between HDL and LDL Cholesterol?

What’s the Difference Between HDL and LDL Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is essential to health. It’s necessary for building and protecting cells and making vitamins and hormones, among other functions. However, the body must maintain a delicate balance of cholesterol. Too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and too little high-density lipoprotein (HDL) is harmful. A healthy cholesterol profile is key to keeping the heart and circulatory system healthy, especially as you age. 

The internal medicine and family medicine physicians and clinicians at Russak Family Medicine in Greenwood Village, Colorado, are here to help patients manage their cholesterol to keep their hearts healthy and strong. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for problems like coronary artery disease, but when it comes to cholesterol, there’s more than meets the eye. Keep reading to learn more about two types of cholesterol and their roles in your health.

HDL cholesterol protects the body

HDL cholesterol is a beneficial form of cholesterol. You can think of it as a housekeeper that travels through your bloodstream and picks up excess cholesterol to take back to your liver for elimination. 

That’s why higher levels of HDL are good for you. A good target to maintain is an HDL level of 60 mg/dl or above. This is the level known to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. 

The benefits of HDL extend beyond its cleanup role. HDL helps maintain the inner walls of blood vessels, reducing inflammation and preventing damage, so that they remain soft and flexible. When blood vessels are soft, blood flows through easily, a key to healthy blood pressure and circulatory health.

An optimal level of HDL also has antioxidant properties, protecting your cells from damage caused by harmful free radicals.

LDL cholesterol is harmful when elevated

LDL cholesterol, when elevated, is bad news for your heart and blood vessels. It does the opposite of HDL and deposits cholesterol throughout the body. When LDL cholesterol is too high, it contributes to plaque formation. 

Over time the result is a thick, hard deposit that can narrow and clog arteries and make them less flexible, a condition known as atherosclerosis — a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

When blood vessels are hard and narrow, the heart must pump harder to circulate enough blood throughout the body. If plaque builds up to the point of causing a blockage, a heart attack or stroke is highly likely, depending on the extent of the blockage.

Ideally, it’s best to maintain an LDL below 100 mg/dl.

Balancing HDL and LDL

Maintaining the right balance between HDL and LDL cholesterol is vital. While we need enough HDL to clear out LDL, it’s equally important to limit the intake of foods that boost LDL levels. This balance isn’t just about numbers; it’s about lifestyle choices that contribute to overall health. Exercise, diet, and avoiding smoking are all factors that can help optimize your HDL and minimize your LDL. 

When it comes to your diet, animal foods are the biggest source of saturated fat, which is potent at raising LDL in the blood. So, if you’re wondering where to start in lowering LDL, consider reducing your intake of animal foods and replacing them with plant foods. 

Having meatless Mondays, for example, is a good approach. Plant foods like beans and legumes are protein-rich and a great substitute for animal foods.

Top-quality heart health care

While heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S., you can do many things significantly cut your risk, and maintaining a healthy cholesterol is one of them. If you have elevated cholesterol or are otherwise concerned about your heart health, our team is more than prepared to help. 

To get started, call 303-317-5012 or use our online message system to schedule a visit with a Russak Family Medicine provider. It’s never too early or too late to take charge of your heart health.

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