High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is one of the five major groups of lipoproteins, which, in order of molecular size, largest to smallest, are chylomicrons, very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), intermediate-density lipoprotein (IDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and HDL. Lipoprotein molecules enable the transportation of lipids (fats), such as cholesterol, phospholipids, and triglycerides, within the water around cells (extracellular fluid), including the bloodstream.
Because of the high cost of directly measuring HDL and LDL protein particles, blood tests are commonly performed for the surrogate value, HDL-C, i.e. the cholesterol associated with ApoA-1/HDL particles. In healthy individuals, about 30% of blood cholesterol, along with other fats, is carried by HDL. This is often contrasted with the amount of cholesterol estimated to be carried within low-density lipoprotein particles, LDL, and called LDL-C. HDL particles remove fats and cholesterol from cells, including within artery wall atheroma, and transport it back to the liver for excretion or re-utilization; thus the cholesterol carried within HDL particles (HDL-C) is sometimes called “good cholesterol” (despite being the same as cholesterol in LDL particles). Those with higher levels of HDL-C tend to have fewer problems with cardiovascular diseases, while those with low HDL-C cholesterol levels (especially less than 40mg/dL or about 1mmol/L) have increased rates for heart disease. Higher native HDL levels are correlated with better cardiovascular health; however, it does not appear that further increasing one’s HDL improves cardiovascular outcomes.

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