Certain levels of cholesterol are essential to health, but high cholesterol levels, particularly LDL (low density lipoprotein – “bad” cholesterol) can lead to blocked arteries.
There are two types of cholesterol LDL (as mentioned above) and HDL (high density lipoprotein). HDL in contrast to LDL is called “good” cholesterol because it clears excess cholesterol from the arteries. HDL cholesterol results should ideally be higher than 1.0mmol/L. A high HDL level of 1.5mmol/L or more is considered a negative risk factor. In other words, high HDL levels are so beneficial that they can counteract the negative effects of another risk factor such as excess weight.
High levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol) present a risk because plaque accumulation in arteries over time can lead to blockage. If this blockage is in a coronary artery, it can lead to a heart attack. If the blockage occurs in the brain, it can result in a stroke. Typically, 65% of total cholesterol is made up of LDL cholesterol; however, levels vary among individuals so it’s important to know both your total cholesterol number as well as your HDL and LDL numbers.
Triglycerides are another fatty substance in your blood. More and more attention is being paid to elevated triglyceride levels and their relationship to increased risk of heart attack. Triglyceride levels increase rapidly after you eat, then decrease slowly as your body processes fats from your food, which is why people are asked to fast for at least eight hours before testing their triglyceride. Fasting triglyceride levels lower than, or equal to, 2.3mmol/L are considered normal.
Know your numbers
The reason why it is important to know your cholesterol numbers is that high cholesterol has no noticeable symptoms. Often, the first symptom of heart disease is a heart attack.
When having cholesterol checked, be sure to test for lipid profile information rather than simply total cholesterol. The level of LDL or “bad” cholesterol is particularly important because strong evidence suggests that high LDL levels are a major cause of heart disease. Research also shows that the higher the level of LDLs, the higher the risk of a coronary event. Reducing LDL levels can lessen the risk of heart disease by as much as 45% over a five-year period. The guidelines identify LDL levels of less than 2.6mmol/L as optimal.
Knowing HDL levels or “good” cholesterol is equally important because higher levels of HDLs are associated with lower levels of risk. If a total cholesterol number is high because of high levels of HDLs, it’s good news. However, if a total cholesterol number is high because of high levels of LDLs, it’s time for cholesterol management therapy.
What you can do?
- Take control of your health. Have your cholesterol tested regularly. Partner with your healthcare professional to keep your cholesterol numbers in control.
- Take control of your grocery shopping. Read food labels; choose foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
- Take control of portion sizes. Learn what one serving or portion looks like.
- Take control of your weight. Aim for a healthy weight and body composition.
- Take control of your refrigerator. Stock your pantry with fresh fruits, vegetables, and low-fat or fat-free dairy foods.
- Take control of your activity level. Do moderate physical activity like brisk walking for at least 30 minutes on most, and preferably all, days of the week. No time? Do three 10-minute segments on as many days as you can.
No matter what your age; you should have your cholesterol checked. Research shows that young adults with the lowest cholesterol levels will live longer than those with higher cholesterol levels. The cholesterol level of a 22-year-old, for example, can be a predictor of risk for a heart attack over the next 40 years.