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Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all of your body’s cells. Cholesterol is produced by the liver and is also found in some foods such as meat and dairy products. Your body requires cholesterol to function properly. However, if your cholesterol levels in your blood are too high, you are more likely to develop coronary artery disease.

Measuring Cholesterol Levels

A lipoprotein panel blood test can determine your cholesterol levels. You will need to fast for 9 to 12 hours prior to the test (nothing but water). The examination provides information about your…

  • Total cholesterol -a calculation of the total amount of cholesterol in your blood It consists of both low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
  • LDL (bad) cholesterol – the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries
  • HDL (good) cholesterol – HDL helps remove cholesterol from your arteries
  • Non-HDL – this figure represents your total cholesterol minus your HDL. LDL and other types of cholesterol, such as VLDL, are included in your non-HDL (very-low-density lipoprotein)
  • Triglycerides – another type of fat in your blood that may increase your risk of heart disease, particularly in women

What Do My Numbers Mean?

The amount of cholesterol in the blood is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Here are the recommended cholesterol levels for your age and gender:

Anyone age 19 or younger:

Type of Cholesterol Healthy Level
Total Cholesterol Less than 170mg/dL
Non-HDL Less than 120mg/dL
LDL Less than 100mg/dL
HDL More than 45mg/dL

 

Men age 20 or older:

Type of Cholesterol Healthy Level
Total Cholesterol 125 to 200mg/dL
Non-HDL Less than 130mg/dL
LDL Less than 100mg/dL
HDL 40mg/dL or higher

 

Women age 20 or older:

Type of Cholesterol Healthy Level
Total Cholesterol 125 to 200mg/dL
Non-HDL Less than 130mg/dL
LDL Less than 100mg/dL
HDL 50mg/dL or higher

Although triglycerides are not a type of cholesterol, they are included in a lipoprotein panel (the test that measures cholesterol levels). Triglyceride levels should be less than 150 mg/dL. If your triglyceride levels are borderline high (150-199 mg/dL) or high (200 mg/dL or higher), you may require treatment.

How Often To Check

The frequency with which you should have a cholesterol test is determined by your age, risk factors, and family history. The following are general recommendations:

For people who are age 19 or younger:

  • The first test should be between ages 9 to 11
  • Children should have the test again every 5 years
  • If there is a family history of high blood cholesterol, heart attack, or stroke, some children may be subjected to this test as early as the age of two

For people who are age 20 or older:

  • Younger adults should have the test every 5 years
  • Men ages 45 to 65 and women ages 55 to 65 should have it every 1 to 2 years

What Affects Cholesterol Levels?

A variety of things can affect cholesterol levels.

  • Diet. Saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet raise your blood cholesterol level. The main issue is saturated fat, but cholesterol in foods also plays a role. Reducing the amount of saturated fat in your diet aids in the reduction of blood cholesterol levels. Some meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods, and deep-fried and processed foods are high in saturated fat.
  • Weight. Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease. It also has a tendency to raise your cholesterol. Losing weight can aid in the reduction of LDL (bad) cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. It also increases HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
  • Physical Activity. Physical inactivity is a risk factor for heart disease. Regular physical activity can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. It also aids in weight loss. On most, if not all, days, you should try to be physically active for 30 minutes.
  • Smoking. Cigarette smoking reduces HDL (good) cholesterol levels. HDL aids in the removal of bad cholesterol from your arteries. As a result, a lower HDL level can contribute to a higher level of bad cholesterol.

THINGS OUT OF YOUR CONTROL

Things beyond your control that can have an impact on your cholesterol levels include:

  • Age and Sex. Women and men’s cholesterol levels rise as they age. Women have lower total cholesterol levels before menopause than men of the same age. Women’s LDL (bad) cholesterol levels tend to rise after menopause.
  • Heredity. Your genes play a role in how much cholesterol your body produces. High levels of cholesterol in the blood can run in families.
  • Race. Certain races may be predisposed to high blood cholesterol. African Americans, for example, have higher HDL and LDL cholesterol levels.

Lowering Cholesterol

Lowering your cholesterol can be accomplished through two methods: heart-healthy lifestyle changes and drug treatment.

  • Heart-healthy lifestyle changes include:
    • Heart-healthy eating. A heart-healthy diet restricts the amount of saturated and trans fats you consume. The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet and the DASH Eating Plan are two examples.
    • Weight Management. If you are overweight, losing weight can help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol.
    • Physical Activity. Everyone should get regular physical activity (30 minutes on most, if not all, days).
    • Managing stress. Chronic stress has been shown in studies to raise LDL cholesterol while decreasing HDL cholesterol.
    • Quitting smoking. Quitting smoking can help you improve your HDL cholesterol. Because HDL aids in the removal of LDL cholesterol from your arteries, having more HDL can help lower your LDL cholesterol.
  • Drug Treatment. If lifestyle changes alone are insufficient to lower your cholesterol, you may need to take medications. Statins are one type of cholesterol medication that is available. The medications work in different ways and have various side effects. Consult your doctor to determine which is best for you. You should continue with the lifestyle changes even if you are taking cholesterol-lowering medications.

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