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Although cholesterol is a dreaded term when it comes to health, it is essential for various functions of the body. It is produced by the liver and is also found in many food sources. Cholesterol does not get dissolved in the blood, and so it is carried by lipoproteins. LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein and HDL, high-density lipoprotein. The LDL does the work of carrying cholesterol to cells where it is required, and HDL carries the same from the cells back to the liver. If the body has too much cholesterol than what is required by the cells to function, LDL cholesterol keeps circulating in the blood. Over time, it starts depositing in the walls of the arteries making them hard and narrow. This increases the risk of heart diseases. Due to this, LDL cholesterol is also known as "bad" cholesterol. HDL on the other hand, works to neutralize the damage caused by LDL. HDL picks up excess amounts of cholesterol in the blood and transports them back to the liver for elimination. This lipoprotein gets rid of the cholesterol that gets accumulated in the blood vessels thus reducing the risk of any heart disease. Given this function, HDL cholesterol is also called "good" cholesterol. So it is obvious that the level of HDL cholesterol in the blood must be higher than that of LDL cholesterol in order to cut the risks of heart disease.

HDL Levels
On an average, 40 to 50 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) is the HDL cholesterol level that is found in men. In women, the range is 50 to 60 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL).

Men are considered susceptible to heart diseases if their HDL cholesterol levels fall below 40 mg/dL. For women, a measure lower than 50 mg/dL is considered a risk factor of heart problems. In short, the higher the levels of HDL cholesterol, the lower the risk .

LDL Levels
When it comes to LDL cholesterol, the lower the level the better. According to experts, people who are otherwise healthy, 100 mg/dL to 129 mg/dL is an ideally safe range of LDL cholesterol level.

Anything between 130 mg/dL to 159 mg/dL is nearly high, and a measure of 160 mg/dL to 189 mg/dL is high. The risk of developing heart disease is the highest for someone who has a LDL cholesterol level of 190 mg/dL and above.

For people who are susceptible to heart diseases must strive to bring down their LDL cholesterol level below 100 mg/dL. And for those with a severe risk of heart problems, LDL level must be lower than 70 mg/dL.

How to Increase HDL Levels
You can boost your HDL levels by:
  • Indulging in regular aerobic exercise.
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation.
  • Choosing soy protein over animal protein.
  • Including monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats in your diet, and reduce saturated fats and trans fats.
  • Maintaining healthy weight.
  • Quitting smoking.
  • Including more of whole grains in your diet.
  • Inculcating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
Speaking about the HDL/LDL cholesterol ratio, the ideal value should be above 0.4. Since it may not be possible to achieve this value, aim should be towards keeping the ratio above 0.3.

To conclude, it is not only high cholesterol levels that increase the risk of developing heart problems. There are several other factors which may contribute to the same. Having said that, a person with normal HDL level may develop heart problems, while a person with a low HDL level may not experience any such problems. But generally, as already mentioned, the higher the HDL cholesterol level the better. Take care.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.