HDL cholesterol refers to the cholesterol packaged within high-density lipoprotein particles. It is considered “good” cholesterol, because HDL collects cholesterol from around the body, and delivers it to the liver for recycling or excretion. HDL also carries cholesterol to other organs, where it is used to produce hormones. In addition, HDL cholesterol plays a role in protecting and maintaining the inner walls of the blood vessels by repairing damaged sites. If not repaired, these damaged sites can start accumulating cholesterol and other fats, leading to atherosclerosis.
HDL cholesterol levels between 40-50 mg/dL for men and 50-59 mg/dL for women are considered optimal. Low HDL cholesterol levels (<40 mg/dL for men and <50 mg/dL for women) increase the risk of heart disease, independent of other risk factors associated with heart disease, including LDL “bad” cholesterol. High levels of HDL cholesterol may offer protection from heart disease in both men and women. Diet, lifestyle, and genetic variation can influence HDL cholesterol levels.