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The good side of cholesterol

Not all types of cholesterol are bad for you. In fact, a high level of HDL cholesterol may help protect you from heart disease.

All cholesterol is not created equal.

Just take a look at the two main types of cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the bad kind, can lead to a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries, increasing your risk of atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke. In general, a lower level of LDL in your blood is better.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, on the other hand, is thought to help protect against heart attack and stroke. It's actually good to have more of this cholesterol in circulation. Hence its nickname, the good cholesterol.

The right stuff

HDL carries LDL cholesterol to the liver, where it can be removed from the body. This means there's less cholesterol left to build up in—and possibly clog—your arteries.

Several steps can help give HDL levels a boost, including:

  • Not smoking. Smoking lowers HDL cholesterol.
  • Exercising. Being active can bring HDL levels up.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. People who are overweight often have low HDL levels.

Some medications used to lower LDL cholesterol levels may also help raise HDL levels.

Know your numbers

If you're 20 or older, you should have your cholesterol checked every four to six years, according to the American Heart Association. You may need to get it checked more often if you have heart disease or a high risk for it. Your doctor can help you understand what the results mean for your heart disease risk and whether any treatment is necessary.

Reviewed 10/3/2023

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