What is Cholesterol?

By Cici Sheeks


Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is considered the "bad" cholesterol because it can contribute to the buildup of plaque, a thick deposit of minerals which can contribute to blocked and weak arteries. If too much of this LDL forms in a narrow artery, it can lead to a patient having a heart-attack or stroke because blood-flow and proper circulation will be obstructed. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is considered "good" cholesterol because it helps remove LDL from clogged arteries. It picks up LDL and takes it back to the liver, where it is broken down and passed out of the body.

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Function and Structure of LDL and HDL

All lipoproteins have both proteins and lipids in their main structure, so HDL and LDL have many of the same characteristics. The main difference between the two, however, is their chemical composition. LDL is made up of about 50% cholesterol (which is why they clog arteries so easily) and 25% protein.

The function for both LDL and HDL is to transport cholesterol, but they carry it to different places in the body.

Monitoring of LDL and HDL Concentrations

LDL and HDL levels are tested to measure a patient's risk of getting heart disease. Doctors monitor levels of LDL in the bloodstream because too much can result in the buildup of plaque, which has the potential to lead to heart disease. They also monitor levels of HDL because it's important to have enough in the bloodstream.

Along with LDL and HDL, doctors also test for levels of triglycerides because too many can result in too much body fat or obesity.

LDL and HDL Testing

Doctors use a special test called a lipoprotein profile to show a patient's LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels. The results show cholesterol levels in the blood to give the doctor and their patient an idea of how at-risk they are for developing heart disease.
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Cholesterol Levels V Health

A patient can change their levels of cholesterol to be healthier and reduce their risk of getting heart disease. They can do this by eating healthier foods with less LDL and more HDL. Stopping bad habits, like smoking and drinking high calorie/sugary drinks can reduce their risk of heart disease more. Eating foods with more unsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol as well.