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What are the different types of cholesterol?

Cholesterol travels in the blood in packages called lipoproteins, which consist of lipids (fats) and protein. Cholesterol packaged in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is often called "bad" cholesterol because too much LDL in the blood can lead to cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries. LDL carries most of the cholesterol in the blood.

Another type of cholesterol package is high-density lipoprotein (HDL), often called "good" cholesterol. HDL helps transport cholesterol from other parts of the body to the liver, which helps remove it from the body, preventing it from piling up in the arteries.

A third type of lipoprotein is very low density (vLDL). This package transports triglycerides in the blood; high levels of vLDL and triglycerides have also been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. There is no direct way to measure vLDL cholesterol, so it's normally not mentioned during routine cholesterol screenings. The vLDL measurement is usually estimated as a percentage of your triglyceride value, with a normal value between five and 40 mg/dL.

Cholesterol is a form of fat that is carried through the body in two kinds of bundles, or lipoproteins. It's important to have healthy levels of both.

Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), or "bad" cholesterol, can lead to a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. In general, the lower your LDL, the better. Reaching your LDL target is the most effective way to protect your heart and blood vessels.

High-density lipoproteins (HDLs), or "good" cholesterol, helps remove cholesterol from your body. In general, the higher your HDL, the better.

Dr. Jack Merendino, MD
Endocrinologist

Cholesterol and triglycerides are the two major forms of fat that circulate in the blood, and together they are referred to as lipids. You know that oil and water don't mix, and so it is with cholesterol or triglycerides and blood. These fats don't dissolve in the blood, but are packaged into particles along with special proteins. There are different types of particles, and each has a different metabolic part to play. The major particles are termed high-density lipoprotein, or HDL; low-density lipoprotein, or LDL; and very-low-density lipoprotein, or VLDL.

All cholesterol is chemically the same, but when it's packaged in one type of particle it does one thing, and when packaged in a different kind of particle it does another. HDL particles help remove cholesterol from the linings of blood vessels, so the higher the HDL cholesterol level, the lower the risk of heart disease. HDL is usually termed "good" cholesterol for this reason. LDL particles put more cholesterol into the plaques lining arteries, so the higher the LDL cholesterol level, the greater the risk of heart disease. LDL cholesterol is therefore called "bad" cholesterol. VLDL particles contain mostly triglycerides. HDL cholesterol levels of 40 mg/dL or more for a man and 50 or more for a woman are generally considered normal, but the higher you go the better off you are. Similarly, LDL cholesterol levels should be less than 100 to be normal, but there is evidence that even lower values help reduce your risk of heart disease.

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There are two main types of cholesterol: "bad" LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and "good" HDL (high-density lipoprotein). The more HDL you have, the better it is for your heart disease risk, because HDL transports cholesterol away from tissues to the liver and out of your body. You want low LDL and high HDL. For otherwise healthy people, HDL levels should be at least 40. But your HDL goal will differ, depending on your unique medical situation. If you have other health risk factors, your doctor may want yours to be higher. Work with your doctor to determine what your HDL and LDL goals should be.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.