The Truth About Cholesterol

You’ve probably heard someone say they are “watching their cholesterol,” but what does that really mean and why is it important? There are many misconceptions about cholesterol that can make it confusing to understand what is fact and what is fiction.

The nice thing about cholesterol numbers are that they are matter of fact; there’s no arguing whether you’re in the clear or if you need to change some of your lifestyle choices to help decrease your chances of heart disease or stroke. The American Heart Association suggests getting your cholesterol tested every 4 to 6 years because dangerous numbers rarely show symptoms.

Good and Bad Cholesterol

Despite what you may have heard, cholesterol isn’t all bad. There are two types that exist in the body: “good” and “bad.” Together, they make up your total cholesterol level.

  • Good Cholesterol: HDL (High-density lipoprotein) cholesterol has a “good” designation because it absorbs other types of cholesterol and transports them back to the liver so that they can be flushed out. In fact, HDL may actually be able to guard the body against heart problems. A healthy level of HDL cholesterol may protect against heart attack and stroke.
  • Bad Cholesterol: LDL (Low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is considered “bad” because it can cause the build-up of plaque within blood vessels. Overtime, blood vessels become hard and narrow and the flow of blood and oxygen can be reduced or blocked. Heart attack and stroke can occur as a result.

How Are Triglycerides and Cholesterol Related?

The most common type of fat in the body is triglycerides. Their job is to store excess energy from food. When you have a high level of triglycerides, you also typically have high levels of LDL cholesterol.

What is High Cholesterol?

When the body experiences high cholesterol, it means there’s too much LDL and not enough HDL. For optimal health, the body needs to have enough HDL to help it get rid of cholesterol normally. When there is too much LDL, it can overpower HDL levels and impact blood flow in the arteries.

How Cholesterol Levels are Tested

How Cholesterol Levels are Tested

To determine your cholesterol levels, your doctor will perform a blood test in the form of a lipid panel. The panel looks at the body’s HDL, LDL, and triglycerides levels, as well as your total blood cholesterol, which is calculated by combining your HDL and LDL cholesterol numbers with 20% of your triglyceride results.

How Much is Too Much?

The numbers you want to hear are a total cholesterol level under 200, where HDL cholesterol is at least 50 for women or 40 for men, LDL cholesterol is less than 100, and triglycerides are lower than 149. You are considered a person with high cholesterol if your total cholesterol exceeds 240, HDL cholesterol is at 60 or more, LDL cholesterol is at 160 or more, and triglycerides are at 200 or more.

Doctors also factor in your age, blood pressure, and smoking habits when determining your risk of heart problems.

Ways to Restore the Balance

Ways to Restore the Balance

The good and the bad don’t have to be joined by the ugly! There are lifestyle changes you can make to help restore the balance of HDL and LDL levels in the body.

  1. Exercise Regularly: When your body isn’t getting enough activity, HDL cholesterol levels can decrease. The American Heart Association suggests doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, like walking, swimming, or bicycling, each week.
  2. Eat For Your Heart Health: Your diet directly impacts your cholesterol levels. According to the American Heart Association, the best way to lower your cholesterol is to avoid foods that contain high amounts of saturated and trans fats. That includes fried foods, as well as foods and drinks that are high in sugar. A heart-supportive diet typically consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, chicken, fish, and healthy fats.
  3. No Nicotine: Both smoking and vaping can lower your HDL cholesterol levels.
  4. Watch Your Weight: While obesity can raise LDL cholesterol levels and lower HDL levels, losing as little as 5% of your body weight can positively affect your cholesterol numbers.


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