Hey guys! I hope you had a fabulous weekend! Cholesterol is a super popular health topic. I’m sure you’ve seen advertisements for different foods that are low in cholesterol, or have heard people talk about their cholesterol, whether it is high, low, or just right. What do those numbers mean? And why does it matter?
Cholesterol has a pretty bad reputation, but surprisingly, cholesterol is not a total bad thing. Our bodies actually make and use cholesterol to keep us healthy. Cholesterol comes from two different sources: our bodies and food. Our bodies (mostly our liver) make all the cholesterol that is needed for it to function, and it is circulated through the bloodstream. Cholesterol is also found in different foods from animal products (ex: meat, poultry, dairy products). When your diet is high in saturated and trans fats, your liver produces more cholesterol. Too much cholesterol can cause plaque build up in your arteries, which makes it harder for your blood to circulate and can eventually lead to serious problems like heart attacks, strokes and blood clots.
Cholesterol does not just dissolve in the bloodstream (unfortunately:) ). It has to be transported out of the bloodstream by little transporting vessels called lipoproteins (made of fat and protein). There are two different types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol to and from cells. They are Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL) and High-Density Lipoproteins (HDL).
LDL Cholesterol:This is the cholesterol that gives all cholesterol its bad reputation. It is known as the “bad” cholesterol. It contributes to plaque build up in the arteries.
HDL Cholesterol: This is known as the “good” cholesterol. It helps remove LDL cholesterol out of the arteries. Some experts believe that HDL cholesterol carries LDL cholesterol back to the liver where it is broken down and passed by the body. A healthy level of this “good” cholesterol helps lower your risk of plaque build up, therefore lowering your risk of heart attack and stroke. But, a low level of HDL cholesterol may increase your risk of these diseases.
Triglycerides: This is the most common type of fat in our bodies. Triglycerides are used to store excess energy from our food. A high level of triglycerides is associated with atherosclerosis. Elevated triglycerides are caused by multiple things. Being overweight or obese, smoking, physical inactivity, and an excess intake of alcohol are just a few causes of a high triglyceride level. Genetic disorders and diseases can also be factors. Many people with a high total cholesterol level have a high triglyceride level as well.
Lets break down the numbers. Where are your levels supposed to be?
HDL + LDL + 20% of your triglyceride level = Total Cholesterol
Total Cholesterol: A healthy score under 180 mg/dL is ideal.
HDL: You want a higher number of HDL cholesterol. Low levels of HDL can actually lead to heart disease. A score of 60 mg/dL or higher is desirable.
LDL: “A low LDL cholesterol level is considered good for your heart health. However, your LDL number should no longer be the main factor in guiding treatment to prevent heart attack and stroke, according to the latest guidelines from the American Heart Association. For patients taking statins, the guidelines say they no longer need to get LDL cholesterol levels down to a specific target number. A diet high in saturated and trans fats raises LDL cholesterol”. -American Heart Association
Triglycerides: Triglycerides are the most common type of fat that is found in the body, and they vary from person to person based on age and gender. A high triglyceride level combined with a low HDL cholesterol, or a high LDL cholesterol is associated with heart disease.
The American Heart Association suggests that those who are the age of 20 and older should go and get their cholesterol and other traditional risk factors checked every 4-6 years. It’s best to have your primary care doctor check your cholesterol.
Tune in on Thursday for part 2 of cholesterol! We will be talking about ways to treat and prevent unhealthy cholesterol levels:)
Have a wonderful day!