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Understanding the Difference Between Good and Bad Cholesterol

If you’ve reached a certain age or weight or have a risky family medical history, your doctor has probably recommended a cholesterol test as part of your routine wellness check. It’s not a judgment about those years adding up on the calendar or the numbers on your scale. It’s all about your heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) health.

Dr. Suri is a top-rated cardiologist who leads the team at West Coast Medicine and Cardiology. He’s a cholesterol expert who recommends regular checks to monitor your good versus bad cholesterol levels — starting as early as age 18 and, depending on your health history, every 1-5 years thereafter.

What exactly is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of lipid (fat) that circulates in your blood. Your body requires cholesterol to maintain good health. It’s an essential component of cell membranes and is necessary for making vitamin D and various hormones, including estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol. Your liver and intestines create about 80% of the cholesterol you need. The other 20% comes from your diet.

What about ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ cholesterol?

There are several kinds of lipids circulating throughout your bloodstream, but we tend to focus on two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.

The difference between the two relates to the type of transportation it uses to travel through your bloodstream. Because cholesterol is a fat, it can’t move smoothly through liquid (blood) on its own. So, your body packages it into tiny protein-covered particles that can move along with your blood. These tiny particles are called lipoproteins (lipid and protein).

The “bad” cholesterol (LDL) is stickier than HDL and can clump together along blood vessel walls and forming plaques, which may eventually narrow your arteries and reduce blood flow to vital organs. This can lead to a heart attack, stroke, and other serious health conditions.

HDL cholesterol is considered “good” because it acts as a scavenger as it travels through your bloodstream. It vacuums up excess, unnecessary LDL cholesterol from your blood and artery walls and transports it to your liver, where it’s eventually excreted as waste.

This natural artery-scrubbing system doesn’t work well when your HDL cholesterol is too low to keep up with high LDL cholesterol levels. It probably makes sense then that we prefer your HDL cholesterol to remain high enough to help decrease excessive amounts of LDL cholesterol traveling through your bloodstream.

What about triglycerides?

Triglycerides are another type of fat found in your blood. It’s a complex process but simply put, whenever you consume more calories (fuel) than you require, your body converts the leftovers into triglycerides and sends them to fat cells for storage.

Conversely, hormones in your bloodstream trigger fat cells to release their stored fuel when your body needs more calories than it’s getting from your diet. This is the basis for weight loss programs — eat fewer calories than you need daily, and your body will use up its stored fat for fuel.

High triglyceride levels are linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other concerning conditions, and are especially troublesome when combined with high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and low HDL (good) cholesterol levels. That’s why we keep a close eye on your triglycerides as well as your cholesterol.


The good news is that there is much you can do to increase your good cholesterol and lower your bad, as well as manage your triglycerides. Schedule a visit today with Dr. Suri at West Coast Medicine and Cardiology to find out how your cholesterol levels may be impacting your future health and what you can do to gain control.

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