Cholesterol does not mix well with blood -- similar to oil and water. To help cholesterol travel through blood to get where it is needed, the body wraps it within water-soluble proteins. This mixture of fatty cholesterol and protein is known as a "lipoprotein."
The good and the bad
You will generally hear about two types, often called the "good cholesterol" and the "bad cholesterol":
- HDL (good) cholesterol -- HDL stands for High-Density Lipoproteins. These are composed mainly of proteins with only small amounts of cholesterol. HDLs are good because they remove cholesterol from artery walls and transport it to the liver for elimination from the body. Higher HDL levels actually protect against cardiovascular disease.
- LDL (bad) cholesterol -- LDL stands for Low-Density Lipoproteins. These are composed mainly of cholesterol and have very little protein. They are bad because they deposit cholesterol on the walls of your arteries. High LDL levels increase the risk for cardiovascular disease.
You should also be aware of triglycerides -- another type of fat that is transported in your blood. High triglyceride levels are another risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
When determining heart disease risk, physicians take a small sample of your blood and test your whole lipid profile. They take the whole profile into account to assess your risk, with particular focus on the LDL value.
You want HDL to be HIGH.
You want LDL to be LOW.
Glenn Gandelman, MD, MPH, FACC Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at New York Medical College; Private Practice specializing in Cardiovascular Disease in Greenwich, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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