difference between hdl cholesterol & ldl cholesterol

What’s the Difference Between HDL and LDL Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a term that we mention frequently, and yet misconceptions about it are numerous. While most people know they need to make healthier diet choices in order to regulate cholesterol levels, the truth is that a common belief is that all cholesterol is bad. That’s not quite correct. Bearing in mind that successful management of cholesterol levels depends on the thorough knowledge of the subject we’re going to address two types of cholesterol LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol, and their differences. Read on to learn more.

What is cholesterol?

In order to discuss the difference between HDL and LDL cholesterol, it’s important to remind ourselves what cholesterol really is. Cholesterol is defined as a waxy, fat-like substance found in all cells in the human body. The body needs cholesterol to function properly, produce some hormones, make vitamin D, and some substances and enzymes that take part in the food digestion process. Without cholesterol, our body would not be able to make healthy cells.

A common misconception is that all cholesterol is bad, but the truth is our body requires it in order to remain strong and healthy. That being said, high levels of cholesterol increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Our body makes all the cholesterol it needs, but we also get it from some foods such as meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products.

Cholesterol has been demonized for quite some time, but not all cholesterol is the same. We can divide it into two types:

  1. High-density lipoprotein  cholesterol (HDL)
  2. Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL)

HDL vs. LDL cholesterol

Lipoproteins are comprised of fat and proteins, hence the name. Cholesterol moves through the body while it’s inside of proteins. As seen above, there are two types of cholesterol: HDL or good cholesterol and LDL or bad cholesterol. The question is; what’s their difference and what makes them either good or bad?

HDL cholesterol

High-density lipoprotein or HDL refers to good cholesterol due to the fact it carries cholesterol from other parts of the body back to the liver. Then, the liver removes cholesterol from your body. In other words, HDL is like a little scavenger that cruises the bloodstream to remove harmful cholesterol from places where it doesn’t belong. As a result, this type of cholesterol can lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

What makes HDL a good kind of cholesterol? Each bit of HDL cholesterol is, essentially, a microscopic blob that contains a rim of lipoprotein surrounding a cholesterol center. The particle is dense, hence the name.

LDL cholesterol

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is referred to as bad cholesterol, but just like HDL, the particle contains lipoprotein rim and a cholesterol center. But, unlike its counterpart, LDL particle isn’t dense. The reason why LDL is considered bad cholesterol is that it becomes part of plaque which clogs the arteries and increases the risk of atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular problems.

Levels for HDL Cholesterol and LDL Cholesterol

Management of cholesterol levels means you need to keep them in a healthy range, which also implies regular checkups at the doctor’s office. These are particularly important if you’re at a higher risk of developing some cardiovascular disease (overweight or obese, sedentary lifestyle, smoker, etc.). Keeping your cholesterol levels in check requires knowing how much is normal or too high.

Measurement of cholesterol is in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl). When it comes to HDL, the ideal is 60 or slightly higher. Generally speaking; HDL cholesterol of 40mg/dl or higher for men and 50mg/dl or higher for women are acceptable values. Less than 40mg/dl of HDL is low, and it’s necessary to make some lifestyle adjustments to increase it.

When it comes to LDL, the normal level is considered to be lower than 100mg/dl or 70mg/dl if coronary artery disease is present. Borderline LDL levels are between 130mg/dl and 159mg/dl. High LDL occurs when the concentration of LDL is 160mg/dl or higher with 190mg/dl being defined as very high.

What causes high cholesterol?

Keeping HDL and LDL cholesterol in balance is vital for our health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, 71 million American adults or 33.5% of the adult population have high LDL, according to the CDC. Only one out of three people with high LDL have their condition under control. What’s the reason behind the ever-growing prevalence of high LDL cholesterol and low HDL? Causes of high cholesterol are numerous and has generally a connection with a person’s lifestyle. Some causes include:

  1. Overweight or obesity
  2. A sedentary lifestyle and lack of regular exercise
  3. Large waist circumference (over 40 inch for men and over 35 inch for women)
  4. Excessive intake of red meat, full-fat dairy products, saturated fats, trans fats, and heavily processed foods
  5. Smoking
  6. Aging
  7. Diabetes

Keeping cholesterol in a healthy range

Lifestyle adjustments are necessary for healthy cholesterol levels. Below, you can see how to increase your HDL and lower LDL cholesterol:

  1. Quit smoking
  2. Lower or avoid consuming alcohol
  3. Eat a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other nutrient-rich foods
  4. Limit intake of heavily processed and refined foods, sugar-laden items, and foods that are abundant in trans fats
  5. Exercise regularly and move more e.g., instead of elevator take the stairs, walk more
  6. Manage stress
  7. Get enough sleep
  8. Maintain your weight in a healthy range
  9. Manage the underlying condition such as diabetes by adhering to doctor’s instructions


Not all cholesterol is equal. We have HDL or good cholesterol and LDL or bad cholesterol, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. A healthy lifestyle is crucial to keep cholesterol levels in a normal range and reduce the likelihood of heart disease. Make sure you see the doctor regularly and check your cholesterol levels.

Published by

Dr. Preet Pal Singh Bhinder

Preet Pal Singh Bhinder is a physician (M.D. Medicine) with specialization in diabetes (Fellowship in diabetes, Royal Liverpool Academy). His professional experience is divided into medical practice and working at higher management for pharmaceutical multinational companies at various international destinations. Also has been involved in clinical trials of numerous drugs, food supplements, and vaccines.

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