Facts About the “Good” HDL Cholesterol That Might Help Save Your Life

Most of us might probably recall the latest trip to the clinic for the drawing of the blood sample – and probably the mentioning of the “good” and “bad” cholesterols and its corresponding ratio.

You see, everyone has to pay attention to the cholesterol levels inside his or her system. It actually is one of the many determinants of one’s health. Our cholesterol, the solid compound in our blood, is highly important to the body as a constituent of the cell membranes. It is involved in the formation of bile acid and some of the hormones in the body.

And while our doctors simplified this compound to mere labels of “good” and “bad” so that most of us may understand. The truth is, there is just but one type of cholesterol. What he actually meant by the good and bad is the lipoproteins which carry the cholesterol molecules inside our blood stream.

Lipoproteins are protein-carrying lipids (a biological compound that is not soluble in water) around the body within the water outside cells. These lipoproteins have five major classifications: Chylomicrons, Very Low Density Lipoproteins (VLDL), Intermediate Density Lipoproteins (IDL), Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL), and High Density Lipoproteins (HDL).

As explained in Scientific Psychic website, the chylomicrons are the largest of these lipoproteins. Their function is to transfer dietary triglycerides (natural fat in tissue) and cholesterol. The VLDL on the other hand, is considered to be very low density lipoproteins and are assembled in the liver from triglycerides, cholesterol, and apolipoproteins (proteins that bind lipids to form lipoproteins). The third classification is the IDL. Each of its particle consists of a protein which encircles fatty acids, enabling these to travel in the watery blood environment as part of the lipid transport system within. Intermediate Density Lipoproteins becomes LDL as its triglycerides are transferred to the cells.

Highlighting on the last two groups, the LDL cholesterol is often named the “bad cholesterol” because high levels are linked with increased risk of heart disease. The HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is nicknamed the “good cholesterol” because high levels are connected to a lesser risk of heart disease and its low levels are linked with increased risk.

The WebMD website, on High Density Lipoproteins, explains: “This friendly scavenger cruises the bloodstream. As it does, it removes harmful bad cholesterol from where it doesn’t belong. High HDL levels reduce the risk for heart disease — but low levels increase the risk.” To simplify, there is but an apparent “inverse relationship” between the HDL cholesterol and the risk of heart diseases.

In determining the best levels of the HDL cholesterol, we need to look at the table below, as reference. The ranges shown on this table, as per the recommendation of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the American Heart Association, shows the set of guidelines when assessing HDL-cholesterol:


HDL Cholesterol Levels (mg/dL)
(For US. and other countries)
HDL Cholesterol Levels (mmol/L
(For Canada and most of Europe)
Below 40 mg/dL (♂)
Below 50 mg/dL ()
Below 1.0 mmol/L (♂)
Below 1.3 mmol/L ()
Low HDL Level
40-49 mg/dL (♂)
50-59 mg/dL ()
1-1.3 mmol/L (♂)
1.3-1.5 mmol/L ()
Medium HDL Level
60 mg/dL and above 1.6 mmol/L and above High HDL level


Basing on the information above, it is important to note that for below 40 mg/dL (milligrams per litre) for men and below 50 mg/dL for women, means that there is a heightened risk for heart diseases. As stressed in book Tietz Fundamentals of Clinical Chemistry, high LDL with low HDL level is an additional risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.

For 40-49 mg/dL for men (♂) or 50-59 mg/dL for women (), the HDL level is generally, “acceptable”. On the other hand, having high HDL levels is the optimal condition; this is protective against heart diseases. 

With its discernible link to cardiovascular diseases, the data from the Framingham Heart Study shows that the risk of heart attack due to a blockage in the coronary artery, increases about 25 percent for every 5 mg/dL (0.13 mmol/L) decrement in the levels of HDL-C. But whether the HDL cholesterol is a causal risk factor or merely an indicator of risk remains to be highly debatable among the medical circle.

What is clear, however, is that in order to determine how these cholesterol levels affect your risk of cardiovascular diseases, your doctor is expected to take into account, other risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, genetics, and age.

Now, what if the results from the blood samples tell that one has a low HDL level? These are the three basic things to consider to help boost your HDL level and eventually reduce the risk of heart disease: quit smoking, exercise, and maintain a healthy weight by eating the right kinds of food.

Studies have shown that tobacco smoke lowers the High Density Lipoproteins; quitting the habit significantly increases its levels. For something as generic as exercise, an aerobic exercise for 30 minutes to an hour, many times in a week can also help elevate the HDL levels. Lastly, by maintaining one’s body mass index (BMI) reduces the risks of heart disease and other possible health concerns.

As a heads-up though, medical experts recommend follow-up cholesterol testing once every five years. Those people with abnormal lipid panels, on the other hand, or who have different risk factors, may have more frequent tests.





Ashwood, E. R., Burtis, C. A., & Bruns, D. D. (2008). Tietz Fundamentals of Clinical Chemistry. (6th ed., p. 415). St. Louis, Mo: Saunders Elsevier.

“Cholesterol Levels” (PDF). American Heart Association. Retrieved 14 November 2009.

HDL Cholesterol: The Good Cholesterol. WebMD website. http://www.webmd.com/cholesterol-management/hdl-cholesterol-the-good-cholesterol. Updated 2015. Accessed on 30 April 2015.

Lipoproteins, Good cholesterol (HDL), Bad cholesterol (LDL). Scientific Psyche. http://www.scientificpsychic.com/health/lipoproteins-LDL-HDL.html. Updated 2015. Accessed on 30 April 2015.

Sigurdsson, Axel F. HDL Cholesterol. Doc’s Opinion. 12 August 2014. http://www.docsopinion.com/2014/08/12/hdl-cholesterol/. Accessed 30 April 2015.

“Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III) Executive Summary” (PDF). National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). National Institutes of Health. May 2001.

“What Do My Cholesterol Levels Mean?” (PDF). American Heart Association. September 2007. Retrieved 14 November 2009.


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