Harvard Men's Health Watch

HDL cholesterol: Protecting your heart and arteries

"What's your cholesterol?"

As men reach middle age, they're more likely to ask each other about health than sports, and when the talk turns from league leaders to medicine, cholesterol is likely to be in first place. Yet for all its notoriety, cholesterol is often misunderstood, especially when it comes to HDL, the "good" cholesterol. It's a shame, particularly since so many men overlook the simple things they can do to boost their levels of HDL cholesterol.

Good, bad, and neutral

Misconceptions about cholesterol begin with the very nature of the chemical. Most people think of it as a fat, but it's actually a sterol, a waxy, fatlike substance with a ringed structure not found in true fats.

Another error is to think of cholesterol strictly as a health hazard. In fact, cholesterol is essential for good health. It is the building block of cortisol and all other steroid hormones. Without cholesterol, men wouldn't have testosterone, nor would women have estrogens.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »