We all understand that we should get our cholesterol levels checked regularly but why and what do all the figures mean? How do our cholesterol levels affect our health and wellbeing? If we are told our levels are high how do we bring them down?
Cholesterol levels should be measured at least once every five years by everyone over the age of 20.
High cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors for coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. As your blood cholesterol rises, so does your risk of coronary heart disease. If you have other risk factors (such as high blood pressure or diabetes) as well as high cholesterol, this risk increases even more. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing coronary heart disease. Also, the greater the level of each risk factor, the more that factor affects your overall risk.
When too much LDL (bad) cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain. Together with other substances, it can form plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can narrow the arteries and make them less flexible.
The screening test that is usually performed is a blood test called a lipoprotein profile. Experts recommend that men aged 35 and older and women age 45 and older be routinely screened for lipid disorders. The lipoprotein profile includes:
- LDL (low density lipoprotein cholesterol, also called “bad” cholesterol)
- HDL (high density lipoprotein cholesterol, also called “good” cholesterol)
- Triglycerides (fats carried in the blood from the food we eat. Excess calories, alcohol, or sugar in the body are converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells throughout the body.)
LDL cholesterol can build up on the walls of your arteries and increase your chances of getting heart disease. That is why LDL cholesterol is referred to as “bad” cholesterol. The lower your LDL cholesterol number, the better it is for your health. The table below explains what the numbers mean. Low density lipoproteins (LDL’s) carry circulating blood fats from the liver to the bloodstream and are therefore a significant indicator of coronary artery disease.
|LDL Cholesterol||LDL-Cholesterol Category|
|Less than 100||Optimal|
|100 – 129||Near optimal/above optimal|
|130 – 159||Borderline high|
|160 – 189||High|
|190 and above||Very high|
When it comes to HDL cholesterol — “good” cholesterol — the higher the number, the better it is for your health. This is because HDL cholesterol protects against heart disease by taking the “bad” cholesterol out of your blood and keeping it from building up in your arteries. The table below explains what the numbers mean. High density lipoproteins (HDL’s) remove unwanted fats and cholesterol from the tissues to the liver for removal.
|HDL Cholesterol||HDL-Cholesterol Category|
|60 and above||High; Optimal; helps to lower risk of heart disease|
|Less than 40 in men and less than 50 in women||Low; considered a risk factor for heart disease|
Triglycerides are the chemical form in which most fat exists in food and the body. A high triglyceride level has been linked to the occurrence of coronary artery disease in some people. Triglycerides are another type of fatty substance in the blood. They are found in foods such as dairy products, meat and cooking oils. They can also be produced in the body, either by the body’s fat stores or in the liver. People who are very overweight, eat a lot of fatty and sugary foods, or drink too much alcohol are more likely to have a high triglyceride level and have a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
|Less than 150||Normal|
|150 – 199||Borderline high|
|200 – 499||High|
|500 or higher||Very high|
Your total blood cholesterol is a measure of LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and other lipid components. Doctors recommend total cholesterol levels below 200. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is produced naturally in our liver and other organs. We also absorb cholesterol from food that comes from animals such as meat, poultry, fish, seafood and dairy products, especially egg yolks. Our bodies need a certain amount of cholesterol to make cell membranes, insulate nerves and to produce hormones. Too much cholesterol however, can affect your health.
The Cleveland Clinic Heart Center, American Heart Association