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Cholesterol (cont.)

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Why is HDL the good cholesterol?

HDL is the good cholesterol because it protects the arteries from the atherosclerosis process. HDL cholesterol extracts cholesterol particles from the artery walls and transports them to the liver to be disposed of in the bile. It also interferes with the accumulation of LDL cholesterol particles in the artery walls.

The risk of atherosclerosis and heart attacks is strongly related to HDL cholesterol levels. Low levels of HDL cholesterol are linked to a higher risk, whereas high HDL cholesterol levels are associated with a lower risk.

Very low and very high HDL cholesterol levels can run in families. Families with low HDL cholesterol levels have a higher incidence of heart attacks than the general population, while families with high HDL cholesterol levels tend to live longer with a lower frequency of heart attacks.

Like LDL cholesterol, lifestyle factors, and other conditions influence HDL cholesterol levels. HDL cholesterol levels tend to be lower in persons who smoke cigarettes or have type 2 diabetes and in those who are overweight or inactive.

HDL cholesterol is higher in people who are lean, exercise regularly, and do not smoke cigarettes. Estrogen increases a person's HDL cholesterol, which explains why women generally have higher HDL levels than men do.

For individuals with low HDL cholesterol levels, a high total or LDL cholesterol blood level further increases the incidence of atherosclerosis and heart attacks. Therefore, the combination of high levels of total and LDL cholesterol with low levels of HDL cholesterol is undesirable whereas the combination of low levels of total and LDL cholesterol and high levels of HDL cholesterol is favorable.

What are LDL/HDL and total/HDL ratios?

The total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol ratio (total chol/HDL) is a number that is helpful in estimating the risk of developing atherosclerosis. The number is obtained by dividing total cholesterol by HDL cholesterol. (High ratios indicate a higher risk of heart attacks, whereas low ratios indicate a lower risk).

High total cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol increases the ratio and is undesirable. Conversely, high HDL cholesterol and low total cholesterol lowers the ratio and is desirable. An average ratio would be about 4.5. Ideally, one should strive for ratios of 2 or 3 (less than 4).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/13/2014


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