Did you know that high cholesterol can affect organs besides your heart? Are you surprised that it affects women differently from men?
When it comes to your health, knowledge is power: High blood levels of cholesterol are a leading risk factor for heart disease, stroke and peripheral artery disease. But you can bring elevated levels down, into the safety zoneTotal Cholesterol
A measure of the total cholesterol in your blood carried by LDLs, HDLs and other lipoproteins
Less than 200 mg/dL
200 to 239 mg/dL
240 mg/dL and above
The “good” cholesterol
Less than 40 mg/dL
60 mg/dL or greater
The “bad” cholesterol
Less than 100 mg/dL
100 to 129 mg/dL
130 to 159 mg/dL
160 to 189 mg/dL
190 mg/dL and above
Less than 150 mg/dL
150 to 199 mg/dL
200 to 499 mg/dL
500 mg/dL or higher
How do cholesterol levels get too high? What causes the “bad” cholesterol levels to be too high and “good” HDL levels to be too low? It’s a complex soup of family history and genetics, weight, dietary habits, exercise levels, and even how you handle stress.
You can’t get new parents, but you can make small, effective changes in the way you eat and move that can help bring high cholesterol levels under control. Diet is one of the biggest contributors to unhealthy blood cholesterol levels, especially saturated fats (found primarily in animal products such as meat, cheese and milk) and trans fats (found in many processed foods). Some foods, especially eggs, actually contain cholesterol, which can also raise blood cholesterol, but not as significantly as saturated fat does. Other foods and drinks actually lower “bad” or raise “good” cholesterol. Eating too many carbohydrates can elevate triglyceride levels, which is also associated with lower levels of good cholesterol (HDL). In addition, exercise, including weight training, can improve your cholesterol levels.
If those lifestyle changes don’t bring your levels all down to normal, your doctor may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications.
Cholesterol is a bit like sunlight — too much of it can cause problems, but it’s hard to survive without it. A small amount of cholesterol (made by your liver and transported through your bloodstream) is used by your body to create cell tissues and certain hormones, which is normal and healthy. But too much blood cholesterol, especially certain kinds, can build up in your arteries, making them more rigid (a condition called atherosclerosis) and eventually blocking blood flow entirely. A blocked artery to the heart can lead to a heart attack. A blocked artery to the brain can lead to a stroke. Both conditions could be fatal.
Whether these blockages occur depends in part on how the cholesterol is transported through your blood — in lipoproteins. Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs — the “bad” cholesterol) are like local commuter trains that make frequent stops, dropping off cholesterol “passengers” along the walls of your arteries. High-density lipoproteins (HDLs — the “good” cholesterol) are like one-stop express trains that sweep the cholesterol directly to your liver where it can be processed for removal from your body.
High LDL and low HDL levels put you at a greater risk for heart disease and stroke. That’s why you need to pay attention to each contributing factor to your cholesterol report, not just your total cholesterol reading. Cholesterol is measured in milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood or mg/dL.