HDL and LDL cholesterol

Clear info: learn the difference between HDL and LDL cholesterol. Your Hdl should be High and your Ldl should be Low. HDL carries LDL away from artery walls. An ideal HDL and LDL cholesterol ratio should be higher than 0.4.

Clear info about HDL and LDL cholesterol on this page


What is HDL and LDL cholesterol

HDL and LDL cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy fat that is carried through the blood by lipoproteins.

  • HDL stands for High Density Lipoprotein and is commonly called ‘good cholesterol’.
  • LDL stands for Low Density Lipoprotein and is commonly called ‘bad cholesterol’.

HDL cholesterol carries LDL cholesterol away from your artery walls. Too much LDL cholesterol will stick to artery walls and build up plaque.

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Difference between HDL and LDL cholesterol

Cholesterol is needed to build the membranes of your cells. However since cholesterol is not soluble in blood, it needs to be carried around by "carriers":

LDL cholesterol will carry the cholesterol all around your blood in order to get it to the cells that need it. However, if there’s too much cholesterol to go around, the "cholesterol will be spilled". This access low cholesterol will end up as plaque and will narrow and harden your arteries that feed your hearth and brain, also known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can cause hearth disease or hearth attack.

HDL cholesterol are the "cholesterol cleaners": they will pick up the extra cholesterol and carry it back to the liver. It is said that HDL cholesterol even can remove the excess cholesterol from plaques or at least slow their growth.

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Normal HDL and LDL cholesterol levels

In the U.S., your cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams cholesterol per deciliter of blood (mg/dL)

LDL cholesterol
(U.S. and some other countries)
LDL cholesterol*
(Canada and most of Europe)
Healthy LDL Cholesterol Levels
Below 70 mg/dL Below 1.8 mmol/L Optimal for people at very high risk of heart disease
Below 100 mg/dL Below 2.6 mmol/L Optimal for people at risk of heart disease
100-129 mg/dL 2.6-3.3 mmol/L Near optimal
HDL cholesterol
(U.S. and some other countries)
HDL cholesterol*
(Canada and most of Europe)
 
50-59 mg/dL 1.3-1.5 mmol/L OK
60 mg/dL and above Above 1.5 mmol/L Best

Cholesterol level data from Mayoclinic (link opens in new Window)

Total Blood Cholesterol Levels

  • less than 200 mg/dL is desirable
  • 200 to 239 mg/dL is considered borderline-high risk, however, a borderline-high total cholesterol where normal levels of LDL cholesterol are balanced by high HDL cholesterol is not too alarming but should be monitored closely
  • above 240 mg/dL total cholesterol is considered as high risk, meaning you will have twice the risk of coronary heart disease compared to people whose total cholesterol level is less than the desirable 200 mg/dL.

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High HDL and LDL cholesterol

LDL Cholesterol Levels

130 to 159 mg/dL

Borderline High

160 to 189 mg/dL

High

190 mg/dL and above

Very High

Cholesterol data from americanheart.org (link opens in new window)

Always let your doctor interpret what a high cholesterol number means for you. The same number could be borderline for a non-smoker yet considered high for a smoker. And cholesterol numbers should always interpret according to your gender.

When it comes to HDL cholesterol, higher levels are better:

  • HDL cholesterol of 60 mg/dL or higher gives some protection against heart disease
  • For men on average HDL cholesterol levels range between 40 to 50 mg/dL
  • For women on average, HDL cholesterol levels range between 50 to 60 mg/dL

Lower HDL cholesterol numbers will put you at a higher risk for heart disease as well as smoking, being overweight and not getting your daily dose of 30 to 60 minutes of exercise.

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HDL and LDL cholesterol ratio

The HDL and LDL cholesterol ratio simply devies the amount of HDL with LDL. A ratio of 1/3 can come from a person with 50 mg/dL HDL cholesterol and 150 mg/dL of LDL cholesterol.

Ideally your HDL and LDL cholesterol ration should be higher than 0.4 and for sure not lower than 0.3.

However, the exact HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, like mentioned in the tables above, will give a clearer indication to predict heart disease or plan your cholesterol treatment.

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HDL and LDL cholesterol levels summarized

Rule of thumb: keep HDL cholesterol high and LDL cholesterol low. An ideal HDL and LDL cholesterol ratio is higher than 0.4 with a great HDL cholesterol above 60 mg/dL and optimal LDL cholesterol levels being below 100mg/dL.

However, your gender, age, risk of heart disease and overall health needs to be taken into consideration when interpreting your cholesterol levels.

Good HDL and LDL cholesterol levels become even better when you don’t smoke and exercise at least 30 to 60 minutes a day.

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