What’s the Difference Between HDL and LDL-Cholesterol?

Cholesterol terms like ‘HDL-cholesterol’ and ‘LDL-cholesterol’ can be a bit intimidating. Many of us don’t think about cholesterol at all until our first test – after which, it can feel like a wave of technical jargon crashes down, all equally baffling. What do HDL and LDL stand for, anyway? Why is one apparently good, and the other bad? The answers to these questions are surprisingly simple.

First of all, a little on what cholesterol is…

Before we get on to the different types of cholesterol, it’s important to know just what cholesterol is. Essentially, cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s produced by the body and travels around it in the blood stream, carried by lipoproteins. It’s perfectly natural (and indeed, necessary) for many bodily processes. However, it is possible to have too much of it – and too much of the wrong type, too.

What’s the difference between HDL and LDL-cholesterol?

So, what is LDL and HDL-cholesterol?
  • LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein.  If you have too much cholesterol carried by low-density lipoproteins, they can start to deposit cholesterol on artery walls. Elevated cholesterol is one of the risk factors of heart disease, which is why LDL-cholesterol is seen as ‘bad’.
  • HDL stands for high-density liproprotein. High-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or HDL, is thought to remove cholesterol from the arteries and carry it back to the liver, where it can then be eliminated.

How high or low should my HDL and LDL-cholesterol levels be?

The NHS suggests that total cholesterol levels should be:
  • 5mmol/L or less for healthy adults
  • 4mmol/L or less for those at high risk of developing heart disease.
LDL-cholesterol levels should be:
  • 3mmol/L or less for healthy adults
  • 2mmol/L or less for those at high risk of developing heart disease.
When it comes to HDL, the NHS states that your levels should be:
  • Above 1mmol/L
  • And as a proportion of your total cholesterol level, the ratio of HCL should be below four. To find out more about cholesterol ratios, discover our quick guide here.

My cholesterol levels are elevated. What do I do?

If you find your cholesterol levels are out of range, it’s a good idea to get the advice of a qualified healthcare professional, who will be able to advise on the best course of action for you. One thing that’s worth knowing is that cholesterol levels can be influenced by diet and lifestyle. Simple changes, like getting a balanced diet, trying cholesterol-lowering foods like Flora ProActiv*, and maintaining a healthy weight can all help to keep HDL and LDL levels healthy.

To help keep you on the road to long-term heart health, we have lots of helpful resources here on the ProActiv site. Why not sign up to our newsletter for a regular roundup of hints and tips, or take a look at our handy Cholesterol Lowering Starter Kit?

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* Flora ProActiv contains plant sterols. A daily intake of 1.5 – 2.4g sterols can lower cholesterol by 7 – 10% in 2 – 3 weeks as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, including plenty of fruits and vegetables. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. As coronary heart disease has many risk factors, more than one may need to be improved to reduce overall risk.

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