In simple terms, cholesterol is fat in your blood. Our bodies require a certain amount of cholesterol for cell building to produce hormones, vitamins and bile acids. However, too much cholesterol causes buildup, or plaque, within the walls of the arteries. Excess cholesterol may compromise blood flow within your arteries, affecting your heart and may lead to complications.
Many times high cholesterol does not cause symptoms. And, many people are unaware that their cholesterol levels are too high.
Not all cholesterol is bad for you. As cholesterol makes its way through the body, it travels through the blood stream via transport mechanisms called lipoproteins. There are three categories of lipoproteins: high-density lipoproteins (HDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL).
- HDL: High levels of this “good” cholesterol may lower your risk of heart disease. It helps the body get rid of excess cholesterol.
- LDL: This “bad” cholesterol causes the most build up in the arteries. The higher your level of LDL, the greater your risk for cardiovascular disease.
- VLDL: Similar to LDL, VLDL carries a fat called triglycerides, creating excess calories. Alcohol and sugar are two major contributors to high triglycerides levels.
How often should you get checked for high cholesterol?
The American Heart Association recommends cholesterol testing for all adults 20 and older once every five years. Cholesterol testing is done through a simple fasting blood test that measures all components of your lipid profile, including your HDL, LDL, VLDL and triglycerides. If a non-fasting test is performed, you will receive your total cholesterol and HDL levels, as the amount of triglycerides in your system may not be accurate.
Is your cholesterol in a healthy range?
Optimal cholesterol levels for a healthy person are the following:
- 200 mg/dL or less for total cholesterol
- 60 mg/dL or above for high-density lipoproteins (HDL)
- 100 mg/dL or less for low-density lipoproteins (LDL)
How can you lower your risk of high cholesterol?
You may not have control over risk facts like family history, age, gender and ethnicity, but simple lifestyle modifications can help you manage your risk of high cholesterol.
- Eat a diet that is rich in heart-healthy foods such as: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, skinless and lean poultry, nonfat dairy products, beans, and nuts. Limit your intake of saturated fat, trans fat and salt.
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
- If you smoke, quit.
Talk to your doctor about your any concerns you have with your cholesterol levels and ways you can lower your risk of heart disease.