Illustration of LDL cholesterol buildup in bloodstream

LDL vs. HDL cholesterol: what you need to know

Medically reviewed on July 13, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Chances are you’ve heard the term cholesterol at a check-up, from a health-conscious friend, or on your favorite medical TV show. But did you know that cholesterol comes in multiple forms? Two of these cholesterol types are LDL (known as “bad cholesterol”) and HDL (known as “good cholesterol”).

While they’re similar in some respects, HDL and LDL also differ in crucial ways.

Finding out that you have higher or lower cholesterol levels is only meaningful if you know the differences between cholesterol types. So, to help you understand the LDL vs. HDL cholesterol divide, we’re going to dive deeper into the world of cholesterol.

Cholesterol explained

Regardless of the acronyms that label them, all types of cholesterol have the same basic attributes. Cholesterol is a fatty, waxy substance that exists in every cell in your body. [1]

If you’ve always heard of cholesterol in negative contexts, that fact may concern you. But cholesterol is essential to our bodily functions. It helps synthesize much-needed substances like vitamin D, steroid hormones, and bile acids (which help you digest food). [2]

As humans, we naturally generate all of the cholesterol we need. [1] However, animals do the same. As such, when we consume animal products like meat, cheese, or eggs, we take in excess cholesterol—both the LDL and HDL varieties.

What is LDL cholesterol, and what does it do?

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is often called “bad cholesterol.” Most of the cholesterol in your body is LDL. If you have high LDL cholesterol in your system, it can build up inside your blood vessels and impede blood flow.

These blockages are known as plaque buildups. When left unchecked, plaque buildups can increase the risk of a heart attack, chest pain, and heart disease. [3]

What is HDL cholesterol, and what does it do?

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) has earned the nickname “good cholesterol.” Unlike LDL, HDL has a positive impact on your body. Its job is to remove bad cholesterol from your blood by transporting it to your liver, which flushes it from the body. [4]

More differences between LDL and HDL cholesterol

Aside from their functions and relative “goodness” or “badness,” HDL and LDL cholesterol differ in a couple of other noteworthy ways.

Desirable levels

When it comes to LDL vs. HDL cholesterol, one of the most important differences is the recommended levels you should aim to maintain. For reference, healthcare professionals measure cholesterol levels in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). So, what are good cholesterol numbers? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the ideal levels for each type of cholesterol are: [4]

  • LDL cholesterol level – 100 mg/dL or less
  • HDL cholesterol level – 60 mg/dL or more

It’s also worth noting that your total cholesterol levels, which is the combined number of your LDL, HDL, and triglycerides, should be under 200 mg/dL.

Particle size

LDL and HDL cholesterol varieties also differ under the microscope. While LDL particles are less dense than HDL particles, they are two to three times larger. [5] LDL particles range from 18–25 nanometers in size, while HDL particles are only 5–12 nanometers.

How to control your cholesterol levels

Now that you understand the differences between LDL and HDL cholesterol, you can work toward raising your “good” cholesterol while lowering the “bad.”

Let’s look at some of the ways you can work to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, as well as how to bring high levels back to the right place.

Know your cholesterol levels

The first defense against out-of-whack cholesterol levels is knowledge. Once you’re aware of your current cholesterol levels, you can take steps to lower your LDL cholesterol level, increase your HDL cholesterol level, or both.

To determine your cholesterol levels, you’ll need a lipid profile—a test result that comes from a blood sample. There are a few ways to obtain this result, including:

Once you know how to compare HDL and LDL in your test results, a lipid profile can tell you if you’re doing everything right or if it might be time to change your habits. If you are wanting to take an at-home test it is important to properly learn how to test lipids and cholesterol levels because there are many options to choose from. Once you have decided on a test, you should learn how to understand cholesterol test results to better decipher your levels.

Take preventative measures

As they say, the best defense is a solid offense. Even if your cholesterol is currently at the desirable level, taking action to keep it that way is a vital way to maintain your wellness.

To keep your cholesterol at a healthy level, the CDC recommends all of the following: [6]

  • Having a healthy diet, varied diet low in trans and saturated fats
  • Maintaining a healthy weight for your height
  • Exercising regularly
  • Reducing your alcohol intake to a maximum of one or two drinks per day
  • Refraining from smoking

When you lead a healthy, active life, you can do more than keep your cholesterol in check—you may also reduce your risk of a heart attack, stroke, or heart disease.

Keep high cholesterol levels under control

If you’re already one of the nearly 94 million U.S. adults with excess cholesterol levels, you have various options for managing and lowering your cholesterol numbers. [7] In addition to following the healthy living advice above, you can talk to your healthcare provider about LDL cholesterol-lowering medication.

Healthcare professionals can recommend several kinds of medications for high levels of cholesterol, including: [8]

  • Bile acid sequestrants
  • Niacin or nicotinic acid
  • Statins

As always, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider before taking any medication. The right treatment for you may depend on other medications you’re taking, as well as other factors of your health and lifestyle.

Monitor your LDL and HDL cholesterol levels at home with Everlywell

Before you can create a plan for managing your cholesterol levels, you need to know where you stand. With cholesterol, there’s no way to feel where your levels are—you need to take a test.

With the Everlywell Cholesterol & Lipids Test, you can check in on your LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels from the comfort of your own home. Within days, you’ll receive your physician-reviewed results and guidance for a healthier lifestyle.

How to understand cholesterol test results

How to test cholesterol at home?

Does fish oil lower cholesterol?

HDL vs. LDL vs. triglycerides

What are good cholesterol numbers?


  1. Cholesterol. MedlinePlus. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  2. New Insights into Cholesterol Functions: A Friend or an Enemy? Nutrients. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  3. LDL and HDL Cholesterol: "Bad" and "Good" Cholesterol. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  4. Getting Your Cholesterol Checked. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  5. Introduction to Lipids and Lipoproteins. Endotext. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  6. Preventing High Cholesterol. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  7. High Cholesterol Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  8. Cholesterol-lowering Medicine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
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