Cholesterol which is also known as a lipid is a waxy substance produced in the liver and is naturally circulated in the blood. Cholesterol may increase from the foods we eat.

All of us are born with cholesterol naturally circulating in our bodies and we require a certain level of cholesterol to live a healthy life, in saying that, not all types of cholesterol are created equally, which is why it is important to know the difference between good and bad cholesterol.

Let’s talk about good cholesterol, bad cholesterol and the differences between each type of cholesterol.


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What Is Good Cholesterol?


“Good cholesterol” is the non-technical term for a type of lipoprotein known as HDL or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.

HDL or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol is known as “good cholesterol” because it transports cholesterol and other lipids to the liver to be expelled from the body.

What does good cholesterol do?
“Good cholesterol” helps to protect against damage to the arteries and blockage known as atherosclerosis. Good cholesterol plays an integral role in ensuring healthy and balanced cholesterol levels.

Different types of cholesterol travel through the blood via proteins. High density lipoproteins carry out their role by attaching themselves to excess/harmful cholesterol and bringing it to the liver, where it will be filtered and expelled from the body.

In simpler terms, “good cholesterol” is often referred to as such because it removes more harmful types of cholesterol from the blood, lowering your risk of heart related conditions such as heart disease and stroke.

How is good cholesterol measured?
“Good cholesterol” or HDL cholesterol is generally measured in milligrams per decilitre (mg/dl) or millimoles per litre (mmol/L) via a blood test.

“Good cholesterol” or HDL cholesterol makes up one part of your total cholesterol levels. Generally speaking, cholesterol tests measure the amount of “good cholesterol” or cholesterol attached to HDL in the blood.

Cholesterol tests also offer a view on the percentage of HDL against the amount of total cholesterol. This can also be represented as a total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol ratio.

Can you have too much good cholesterol?
While it is usually accepted that high cholesterol is a bad thing, there is nothing to suggest that high “good cholesterol” is damaging to your health, though new research is released on this topic on a regular basis.

Are there ways to increase good cholesterol levels?
Nutrition, physical activity status and body weight all play a role in improving or damaging your overall health. It’s definitely a health investment to put time and effort into your diet and level of exercise. Smoking tobacco products and obesity are both risk factors for low “good cholesterol” and high “bad cholesterol” which may lead to a number of poor health outcomes.


A helpful note on the term HDL or high-density lipoproteins:

Cholesterol travels through the blood attached to proteins. Different forms of cholesterol are also known as lipids. So when you combine the two, you get “lipoproteins”.

Good cholesterol is referred to as lipoproteins which are of a “high density”. High density lipoproteins are compact and complex proteins with the ability to carry cholesterol from the blood to the liver.

Next up, let’s take a look at what you need to know about “bad cholesterol.”


What Is Bad Cholesterol?


“Bad Cholesterol” is the non-technical term for a type of lipid known as LDL or low-density lipoprotein.

LDL or low density lipoprotein is known as “bad cholesterol” because it circulates through the blood carrying cholesterol, which can attach to the artery walls, over time, this may make artery walls narrow or become completely blocked.

Generally speaking, there is always a higher proportion of “bad cholesterol” to “good cholesterol” in the blood, but this is normal.

What does bad cholesterol do?
Low-density lipoproteins transport cholesterol to cells and blood vessels in the body

The function of “bad cholesterol” isn’t to cause health problems, we need a certain amount of LDL in the blood to live. There are certain factors that may lead to unhealthy levels of “bad cholesterol” therefore having a negative impact on one’s overall health.

In simpler terms, “bad cholesterol” is referred to as such because it facilitates attachment of cholesterol and other lipids to the arteries, leading to blockages which often presents as a heart attack or a stroke.

How is bad cholesterol measured?
“Bad cholesterol” or LDL is generally measured in milligrams per decilitre (mg/dl) or millimoles per litre (mmol/L) via a blood test.

“Bad cholesterol” or LDL cholesterol generally makes up a larger proportion of your total cholesterol levels.

As mentioned, cholesterol tests generally measure “good cholesterol” (HDL cholesterol) as a percentage of total cholesterol. Additionally, cholesterol tests will generally measure total triglycerides, total cholesterol and “bad cholesterol” (LDL/low-density lipoprotein).

The acceptable “bad cholesterol” levels very from person to person, this can depend on age, family history and personal history of heart issues.

When does high bad cholesterol become dangerous?
Atherosclerosis is a condition which occurs when cholesterol builds up in the arteries which may lead to blood clots and completely blocked arteries. When this cholesterol begins to harden, it is known as plaque and it increases your risk of various heart conditions and stroke.

Are there ways to lower your bad cholesterol?
Recommendations to lower your bad cholesterol are the same steps you would take to increase your high cholesterol. Eating well, exercising often, watching your weight and /ceasing smoking are some of the best steps you can take to better overall health but especially your cholesterol levels.


A helpful note on the term LDL or low-density lipoprotein:
There are few visible symptoms of high “bad cholesterol” in the body, which may make it more difficult to diagnose an increased risk of heart disease early on.

Cholesterol_Heart


What Is The Difference Between Good And Bad Cholesterol?


The main difference between ‘good’ high density lipoproteins and ‘bad’ low density lipoproteins is that high density lipoproteins transport cholesterol to the liver so it can be processed and expelled by the body.

Low density lipoproteins transport excessive lipids towards essential organs and arteries where there is a possibility that these lipids will attach to the walls of the arteries.

Here are some differences between good and bad cholesterol summarized:

  • Good cholesterol helps protect against various heart conditions by transporting excess lipids out of the body. Bad cholesterol circulates cholesterol in the body which can lead to negative health outcomes.
  • Having high good cholesterol is generally not seen as a negative thing, whereas having high bad cholesterol is.
  • There is a higher volume of bad cholesterol than good cholesterol in the blood at most times, and this is normal.


Here are some of the things that good and bad cholesterol share in common:

  • Good cholesterol and bad cholesterol are both produced in the liver.
  • Diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors both impact on your good and bad cholesterol levels.
  • Good cholesterol and bad cholesterol both carry lipids around the body.

Want to find out more about your good and bad cholesterol levels? Browse our home cholesterol tests, and you could have a better understanding of your cholesterol levels with results in just one week.


If you would like to learn about good and bad cholesterol via our podcast, check out our latest episode: Matters Of The Heart | Your Guide


Written by Hannah Kingston | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Susan O’ Sullivan