What is the Role of Beneficial HDL-C Lipids in the Body?

When mentioning cholesterol, many people often associate it with unhealthy fats that pose risks to the body, potentially leading to cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure. However, there is a type of cholesterol that is considered beneficial for the body, and that is High Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol (HDL-C). So, what is HDL-C, and what benefits does it offer to the body? Let’s explore the following article.

What is HDL-Cholesterol?

HDL-C is a high molecular weight lipoprotein synthesized in the liver. Lipoproteins consist of proteins and fats. HDL-C is recognized as a type of beneficial fat due to its role in transporting harmful cholesterol, triglycerides, and other detrimental fats away, thereby reducing the accumulation of cholesterol in tissues and blood vessels.

HDL-C transports these harmful substances to the body’s detoxification center – the liver. In the liver, excess and harmful cholesterol is transformed into different compounds and then eliminated from the body. Consequently, individuals with higher levels of HDL-C may reduce the risks associated with cardiovascular diseases and cerebral vascular incidents.

Good cholesterol HDL and bad cholesterol LDL

Good cholesterol HDL and bad cholesterol LDL

When is HDL-C Testing Conducted?

HDL-C testing is typically carried out when cholesterol test results show elevated levels. This type of test is rarely performed on its own; it is often conducted alongside other tests, including cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride measurements. These tests are all related to the body’s lipid profile.

Usually, during regular health check-ups, these tests are administered to screen for lipid-related risks in the body. However, for individuals at risk of cardiovascular diseases, more frequent testing might be necessary. Some high-risk factors for cardiovascular diseases include:

  • Smoking or tobacco use.
  • Advanced age: Females aged 45 and older, and males aged 55 and older, have a higher risk of developing heart-related conditions.
  • Individuals with medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, etc.
  • Those with a history of underlying heart conditions or prior heart attacks.
  • Family history of early-onset cardiovascular diseases (males under 55 and females under 45).

Generally, individuals between the ages of 9 to 11 and 17 to 21 should undergo testing at least once for health assessment. For families with parents having elevated cholesterol levels, testing for children under 9 years old is recommended as well.

For individuals with low HDL-C levels who are implementing measures to raise their lipid levels, testing is conducted to assess the effectiveness and progress of these interventions.

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The Significance of HDL-C Testing

Normally, the body has a self-regulating mechanism to maintain stable levels of HDL-C within a certain range. Blood concentrations in males typically fall around 40 – 50 mg/dL (1.0 – 1.3 mmol/L), while for females, the range is about 50 – 59 mg/dL (1.3 – 1.5 mmol/L).

With its role in transporting excess cholesterol from tissues and blood vessels to the liver for metabolism and elimination, HDL-C is one of the critical factors safeguarding the body against the risk of arterial plaque formation. This, in turn, helps prevent sudden events like strokes and heart attacks.

For patients with HDL-C levels below <1.0 mmol/L, the risk of cardiovascular diseases increases because the excess cholesterol cannot be efficiently transported to the liver, potentially leading to arterial plaque formation.

This index can be elevated by adopting a scientifically guided lifestyle, such as quitting smoking (if applicable), reducing alcohol intake, increasing physical activity, and engaging in regular exercise.

In reality, it’s not a simple linear relationship where higher HDL-C levels always mean lower cardiovascular risk. If the HDL-C concentration exceeds 90 mg/dL, it can actually become a risk factor for disease. Additionally, it’s important to understand that assessing cardiovascular risk and health status isn’t solely based on this index; it requires consideration of other factors to provide the most accurate risk assessment.

Image of arterial plaque

Image of arterial plaque.

What should be noted when conducting HDL-C testing?

HDL-C testing is usually performed in conjunction with other tests to assess overall lipid status; therefore, it’s important to fast for about 9 – 12 hours prior to the test for accurate results. HDL-C levels can also change during acute illnesses or pregnancy. It’s advisable to undergo testing when in good health, free from acute illnesses, and for pregnant women, it’s recommended to wait at least 6 weeks after childbirth before testing.

Individuals with other conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, etc., have a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases. Particularly during the ongoing strong spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, those with these underlying conditions are at a higher risk of infection and are more likely to experience severe consequences if infected. This is a crucial time to undergo screenings, assess underlying conditions, evaluate personal and family health status, and implement appropriate self-care measures.

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