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What is the difference between good and bad cholesterol?

The eating habits and sports activity that we practice profoundly mark our health. Sendentarism and the high-fat diet is causing more diseases than any other, with problems derived from diabetes, cardiovascular accidents and cancer.

Cholesterol is a serious problem in the Western world, but there is a lot of urban legend about this element. To deepen this, we have to learn to differentiate the different forms of lipids that we can find, those considered as functional, HDL (high-density lipoproteins), and ldl negatives (low-density lipoproteins).

Do you really know the difference between good and bad cholesterol?

Differences between good and bad cholesterol

Without a doubt, health worries us more and more and that is why we try to inform ourselves about the ingredients of each product that enters our shopping cart and also if any of them affect us positively or negatively in the long term.

One of the greatest concerns and that is precisely about what we have less clarity is about cholesterol, and what is known as good cholesterol and what as bad cholesterol.

Many of us have heard that “I have cholesterol” or “beware of high cholesterol”, but these common phrases only manage to generate confusion and do not reflect reality.

To help you answer those questions, we recommend that you continue reading.

First of all it should be said that cholesterol is something that we humans need and that it is found in the body tissue of all animals.

It is a sterol, that is, a set of organic molecules that are located naturally, and in small doses, in a wide variety of foods that we usually consume, such as vegetable oils, cereals and even in fruits and vegetables and also our own liver produces it.

Differences between bad and good cholesterol

For more information, the 70% of cholesterol comes from the production of our liver and only the remaining 30% of the food we eat.

Cholesterol plays a fundamental role for our body to function properly as follows:

actively collaborates in the transformation of the sun’s rays that we receive in our skin into vitamin D, essential for the correct absorption of calcium by the bones.

  • It manufactures bile acids, which help in the digestion of the fats we ingest.
  • It produces steroid hormones, such as sex or thyroid hormones, which are fundamental in our body.

The problem appears when our body has an amount of more than necessary, and therefore, it can cause heart disease.

It is usually spoken of colloquially good and bad cholesterol, but it is better to refer to them as HDL (high-density lipoproteins) and LDL (low-density lipoproteins).

Types of cholesterol

Under the acronym HDL and LDL are the terms in English “high density lipoprotein” (high intensity lipoprotein) and “low density lipoprotein” (low intensity lipoprotein), respectively.

To cholesterol LDL it is known as bad cholesterol because an excessive level of this in the blood adheres to the arterial walls and in the long run the plaque that forms can clog the arteries.

This obstruction of the coronary arteries would cause the heart to reach smaller amounts of oxygen and blood, and that, therefore, people who suffered from it would have respiratory problems, among other difficulties.

In extreme cases where the arteries are completely clogged, the consequences could be more severe, leading to a heart attack.

On the other hand, cholesterol HDL, the “good”, is responsible in some way to collect all the cholesterol that is found in our body to take it back to the liver, where it is eliminated by bile.

Thus, too high a level of LDL negatively affects health, but so is the fact of having too low levels of HDL cholesterol.

There is a third type of cholesterol, perhaps the least known, which is the VLDL “very low density lipoprotein”, also produced by the liver and whose particles transport triglycerides to the tissues.

Attached to cholesterol is always named to the triglycerides but what are they?

They are fats that are deposited in the blood and that come from the calories of food, such as animal fats or vegetable oils.

If the body has more triglycerides than it needs to transform into energy, we may encounter cardiovascular problems due to high triglycerides.

The greater the consumption of products with high doses of saturated fats or sugars, the easier it is to have high triglycerides.

As we have just seen, although cholesterol and triglycerides are lipids, they do not have the same function in the body or the same structure, so it is advisable not to confuse them.

Recommended values

Although there are average values of good and bad cholesterol recommended, these will depend on various factors such as age or sex.

The most appropriate way to know the levels of each person is with a blood test and with the knowledge provided by a specialist doctor.

Even so, we could establish the following limits:

Parameter Optimal High Very high
HDL (good) cholesterol 40-60 mg/dL >60 mg/dL (good) >60 mg/dL (good)
LDL (bad) cholesterol   130-189 mg/dL >190 mg/dL
VLDL cholesterol 2-30 mg/dL >30 mg/dL >30 mg/dL
Total cholesterol   200-240 mg/dL >240 mg/dL
Triglycerides   200-499 mg/dL >500 mg/dL
  • For LDL cholesterol: it would be best not to exceed 100 milligrams per deciliter, putting the limit at 130mg / dL, controlling even more those who have already suffered from cardiovascular disease before, as they have a higher risk.
  • For HDL cholesterol: In this case it refers to minimum values, being recommended 40mg / dl in men and 50mg / dL in women.
  • As for VLDL, the maximum should be 30mg/dL.

When we hear about total cholesterol it is neither more nor less than the set of all types of cholesterol (LDL, HDL and VLDL) and that should not exceed 200mg/dL.

The Spanish Heart Foundation emphasizes the importance of knowing our blood cholesterol levels by performing a blood test known as a lipid profile.

This test can be done as early as children, especially if there is a family history of hypercholesterolemia. It is advisable to perform a test every 5 years and even every less if our doctor considers it so.

How to Lower Bad Cholesterol

To reduce the levels of bad cholesterol it is mainly advised to follow a balanced diet, trying to avoid the consumption of foods rich in saturated fats, refined sugars or transgenic fats.

In addition to this, leading a healthier lifestyle also involves performing physical exercise frequently, because in this way we can transform part of the fats into energy.

In some cases this is not enough and we must also resort to specific medications for cholesterol reduction, but always under the tutelage of our specialist doctor.

Although we strongly recommend having a balanced diet, with higher fiber consumption and low in fat (or at least, with unsaturated fats), there is also food supplements which can help reduce it, in case it is at undesirable levels.


About Andrew Parkinson

Andrew Parkinson is a highly accomplished pharmacist with a passion for improving healthcare. With a wealth of experience in both community and clinical pharmacy settings, he's known for his dedication to patient well-being. Mr. Parkinson actively engages in medication management, offering personalized solutions and promoting better health outcomes. He has also played a pivotal role in educating patients on proper medication usage and potential interactions. Andrew's commitment to advancing the field of pharmacy and ensuring safe and effective drug therapies has garnered him recognition as a trusted and invaluable healthcare professional, making a positive impact on countless lives.

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