Plasma levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein)-cholesterol are strongly and inversely correlated with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Both clinical and epidemiological studies have reported an inverse and independent association between serum HDL-cholesterol levels and CHD (coronary heart disease) risk. The cardioprotective effects of HDLs have been attributed to several mechanisms, including their involvement in the reverse cholesterol transport pathway. HDLs also have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antithrombotic properties and promote endothelial repair, all of which are likely to contribute to their ability to prevent CHD. The first part of this review summarizes what is known about the origins and metabolism of HDL. We then focus on the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of HDL and discuss why these characteristics are cardioprotective.