LDLs, or low density lipoproteins, contain more cholesterol than any other lipoproteins, and are considered “bad” cholesterol. They have an affinity for arterial walls and may deposit cholesterol directly onto them. Thus, elevated LDL levels correlate closely with increased atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease (CAD).
Due to its direct correlation with atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease, LDL is considered the “bad” cholesterol. LDL levels increase with excessive intake of saturated fatty acids, dietary cholesterol and obesity. A value below 100 mg/dL is considered normal for most adults.
HDL, or high density lipoprotein, is considered “good cholesterol.” This is because HDL transport in the body prevents lipid accumulation within the arterial walls, and higher HDL levels lower the risk of coronary artery disease.
Men tend to have noticeably lower HDL levels than women, and are at higher risk for atherosclerotic disease. In men, the normal HDL level is greater than 40 mg/dL.
Women have higher HDL levels than men, normally greater than 50 mg/dL.
The total blood cholesterol is a measure of LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and other lipid components. In order to avoid a falsely elevated level, patients should be fasting for at least 12 hours to get an accurate reading. This total blood cholesterol level is used to assess patients for cardiovascular disease risk.
The normal total cholesterol level is below 200 mg/dL or 5.2 mmol/L (SI units). Factors that contribute to a higher level include familial hypercholesterolemia, increased saturated fatty acid intake and a sedentary lifestyle.
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