Bad Cholesterol vs. Good Cholesterol

Bad Cholesterol
Good Cholesterol

Not all cholesterol is bad for the body. There are two types of cholesterol - HDL (High Density Lipoprotein or good cholesterol) and LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein or bad cholesterol). While LDL causes blockage in arteries, HDL helps transport triglycerides to the liver for excretion.

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Bad Cholesterol

Good Cholesterol

Definition Bad cholesterol or LDL, Low Density Lipoprotein, is also a type of lipid present in the blood and if present in large amounts can cause health problems as it tends to accumulate in the arteries and cause blockage. Good cholesterol or High Density Lipoprotein is one of the groups of lipoproteins present in blood and aids in the transport of cholesterol and triglycerides to the liver for excretion or re-utilization.
Function The main function of LDL is to transport cholesterol to tissues and arteries. The function of good cholesterol is to transport cholesterol from the arteries and tissues to the liver and other organs such as ovary, adrenal glands, and testis.
Recommended range The recommended level of LDL (bad cholesterol) is 2.6 mmol/L or lower. Recommended level of good cholesterol is 1.55 mmol/L and above.
Sources Sources of bad cholesterol are foods rich in trans fatty acids, refined carbohydrates such as white sugar and flour, cholesterol-rich foods such as egg yolk, liver, kidney, dairy products like cream cheese, etc, and alcohol. Sources of HDL include onions and Omega-3 fatty acids like flax oil, fish, foods rich in fibre like grains, oats, bran etc.

Contents: Bad Cholesterol vs Good Cholesterol

edit What are HDL and LDL?

Good cholesterol (High Density Lipoprotein or HDL) is one of the groups of lipoproteins (fat-like substances) present in blood. HDL aids in the transport of cholesterol and triglycerides to the liver for excretion or re-utilization. Thus, good cholesterol prevents cardiovascular diseases by preventing the blockage of arteries.

Bad cholesterol (or LDL - Low Density Lipoprotein) is also a type of lipid present in the blood and if present in large amounts can cause health problems as it tends to accumulate in the arteries and cause blockage.

edit Differences in Structure and Function

Lipoproteins are a complex of apolipoproteins and phospholipids. Good cholesterol is the smallest of all the lipid molecules, which are high-density molecules due to their high protein content. The function of good cholesterol is to transport cholesterol from the arteries and tissues to the liver and other organs such as ovary, adrenal glands, and testis. The cholesterol delivered to the liver is excreted into the bile, and then the intestines. The cholesterol transported to the other organs is used for the synthesis of steroid hormones. The other functions of HDL include their role in inhibiting oxidation, inflammation, activation of endothelium and coagulation.

An LDL molecule consists of a single Apo lipoprotein molecule which circulates the fatty acids. The main function of LDL is to transport cholesterol to tissues and arteries.

edit Effects of High Cholesterol

The higher the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood, the greater your chance is of getting coronary heart disease. The higher the level of HDL cholesterol in your blood, the lower your chance is of getting heart disease.

Coronary heart disease is a condition in which plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries. This limits the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle.

A picture comparing a healthy artery with an artery with atherosclerosis (plaque build-up)
A picture comparing a healthy artery with an artery with atherosclerosis (plaque build-up)

Eventually, an area of plaque can rupture (break open). This causes a blood clot to form on the surface of the plaque. If the clot becomes large enough, it can mostly or completely block blood flow through a coronary artery.

If the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle is reduced or blocked, angina or a heart attack may occur.

edit Recommended range

The recommended levels of HDL (good cholesterol) are 1.55mmol/L and above. In case of LDL (or bad cholesterol), 2.6mmol/L or lower is considered optimum for the body.

The recommended ranges for HDL, LDL and triglycerides in the human body. (Source:National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. June 2010
The recommended ranges for HDL, LDL and triglycerides in the human body. (Source:National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. June 2010

edit Food containing good and bad cholesterol

The foods rich in good cholesterol (HDL) include onions and Omega-3 fatty acids like flax oil, canola oil, fish, foods rich in fibre like grains, oats, bran and soy. To decrease your LDL, avoid high-cholesterol foods that are rich in trans fatty acids, refined carbohydrates such as white sugar and flour, cholesterol-rich foods such as egg yolk, liver, kidney; dairy products like cream cheese, and alcohol.

edit Impact of lifestyle

Changes in lifestyle and regular exercise and weight loss can also help to raise HDL levels and decrease the overall cholesterol level. Small changes like moving from vegetable oil to canola or olive oil in cooking also make a difference in the long run.

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