Monday, February 13, 2012

LDL, HDL, Schmel-dee-el...What's it mean?!

Time to do some breaking-down of "Cholesterol Confusion". Let me get everyone up to date on the whole cholesterol issue.

Ok. There is "bad" cholesterol (the LDL), the "good" cholesterol (the HDL), Triglycerides, and some others that I'm not going to get into for simplicity's sake.

To start, the LDL, or "loser" cholesterol is the main culprit of heart disease. This is that number that we, as doctors, freak out about. The LDL should be less than 100, ideally. If you do not have diabetes or any other medical problems or family history of heart disease, we say less than 130. If you have diabetes, <100, for sure, and now we are saying <70 if we can get it there safely.

The HDL is the "happy" cholesterol. HDL cholesterol actually takes the bad cholesterol from the arteries and transports it to the liver to be processed and removed. So, HDL>60 is said to be "cardio-protective", while an HDL<50 in women and <40 in men may put you at a higher risk of heart disease. To improve your HDL, avoid smoking and maintain a healthy weight.

Triglycerides store unused calories, and high levels typically correlate with eating a lot of starchy foods (carbs) and fatty foods.Also, people with uncontrolled blood sugars also typically have high triglyceride levels. Triglyceride levels should be <150.

The "total" cholesterol is basically the total of these mentioned plus a few not mentioned. The total cholesterol doesn't mean too much without the breakdown of the components. So, focus on the breakdown, and "know your numbers"!

To summarize:
HDL >60 in women, >50 in men

Also, just because you are fit and in good shape does not mean you have nothing to worry about. A very large part of cholesterol a lot of times is genetic, and there is not much you can do about that, unfortunately. Regardless, whether you are thin, heavy, in shape, or not....get it checked!!


  1. Great info!
    So my cholesterol back in late August was:
    Total - 262
    HDL - 66
    LDL- 147
    Triglycerides- 247

    I started to take Red Yeast Rice which was recommended by my doctor along with fish oil and I think that's helped me a bit because on my latest checkup I had lowered my triglycerides back to normal and lowered the cholesterol just a bit overall (can't remember the exact #'s).But, is it true that Vitamin E can also help the cholesterol?


    1. Laura,

      Vitamin E has been researched extensively and the research goes back and forth. As of now, Vit E supplementation is not recommended for lowering cholesterol, and actually, in one study, showed INCREASED all-cause mortality. So, we stick to diet and exercise first, then statins if necessary (red yeast rice is a great supplement too). Your HDL is good, but you definitely need to work on the LDL and triglycerides. See the "top 10 to live by" post for some diet recommendations...and exercise daily!
      -Dr. Tiff

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