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HDL: The "Good" Cholesterol

HDL cholesterol is "good" because it picks up the extra cholesterol that was dropped off by the LDLs and brings it to your liver. This way, your liver can repackage it to use it later or simply get rid of it. Because HDL cholesterol removes excess "bad" cholesterol (LDL), it is good to have high levels of HDL in your system and low levels of LDL. Think of "H" for "high" to help you remember this. And "L" stands for low, which is a way to remember that you want low levels of LDL.

Understanding Your HDL Numbers

Because HDL helps remove cholesterol from the blood, it can help keep cholesterol from building up in the walls of the arteries (known as plaque). Plaque buildup can lead to a condition called atherosclerosis, which is narrowing of the arteries. Narrowing of the arteries can lead to heart disease (see Cholesterol and Heart Disease).
This explains why if your HDL cholesterol level is low (below 40 mg/dL), you are at substantially higher risk for heart disease. The higher your level, the better off you are, as the following table shows.
HDL Cholesterol Level
HDL Cholesterol Category
Less than 40 mg/dL
A major risk factor for heart disease
40–59 mg/dL
The higher, the better
60 mg/dL and above
Considered protective against heart disease
(Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams [mg] of cholesterol per deciliter [dL] of blood.)
The average HDL cholesterol level for men is about 45 mg/dL; for women, it is about 55 mg/dL.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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