HDL vs. LDL: Understanding Cholesterol and Your Health

HDL vs. LDL: Understanding Cholesterol and Your Health

The CDC estimates that about 94 million adults over the age of 20, and 7% of children aged six to 19 in the United States, have high cholesterol, which greatly increases your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

It makes sense then that cholesterol is likely one of the first things your cardiologist checks when evaluating your heart health. You’re not alone, though, if all the talk about lipids and fats and cholesterol and triglycerides gets confusing at times.

Our specialty team at Premier Cardiology Consultants in New York explains cholesterol and what those numbers on your lab values might mean about your cardiac health.

Understanding cholesterol and its effect on your health

Cholesterol is a waxy substance your body uses to create hormones and build cell membranes. It’s also the substance your body requires to convert the sunshine bathing your skin into vitamin D.

Normally, all the cholesterol you’ll ever need for good health is manufactured in your liver and distributed throughout your body in the bloodstream. But many of the meats, dairy products, and other foods you consume also contain cholesterol that eventually ends up in your blood via the digestive process.

You can’t live without cholesterol. Unfortunately, many Americans consume much more than their bodies need. While your liver does its best to get rid of the excess, certain types of cholesterol can build up and form plaques (atherosclerosis) in your arteries. 

Left untreated, atherosclerosis eventually restricts the blood flow your heart and other organs count on to function normally, and is a leading cause of heart disease, stroke, and heart attack. 

Understanding HDL, LDL, and triglycerides

Cholesterol and triglycerides are all blood fats (lipids) that play various roles in cellular function and your overall health. 

The three lipids that receive the most attention are:

LDL cholesterol

LDL cholesterol is named for the small protein molecule (low-density lipoprotein) that carries it through your bloodstream. Also referred to as “bad” cholesterol, LDL is a primary cause of atherosclerosis, the disease responsible for clogged arteries.

HDL cholesterol

HDL is the favored sibling in the cholesterol family. Transported via your bloodstream by high-density lipoprotein molecules, HDL latches onto excess LDL in your blood and transports it back to your liver where, ideally, it’s broken down and eventually expelled from your body. 

Triglycerides

Potentially less well-known than cholesterol, triglycerides are also a type of lipid (blood fat) that contribute heavily to atherosclerosis. Triglycerides are the substance your body forms and stores in fat cells when you eat more calories than necessary on any given day.     

When your Premier Cardiology provider orders labs that include a lipid profile, they’re checking your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. 

The results help determine whether you’re manufacturing enough “good” cholesterol (HDL) to overcome the “bad” (LDL) and if high triglyceride levels are compromising your arteries and thus your heart health.

Lowering your cholesterol and triglycerides 

To decrease your risk of heart disease, stroke, and heart attack related to high LDL and triglycerides, and to increase your HDL, your specialist may recommend:

High triglyceride levels may also be caused by undiagnosed or poorly controlled diabetes, kidney disease, hypothyroidism, or liver disease. Your cardiologist may recommend further testing and/or tighter management of these conditions.

For more information about decreasing your risk of heart disease, or any of the other services we offer, schedule an evaluation at Premier Cardiology Consultants by calling one of our New York locations today. 

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