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Understand Your Cholesterol Levels And Cholesterol Ratio

Crash Course in Understanding What is Cholesterol

People talk about cholesterol all the time. Someone mentions cholesterol levels or Cholestrol numbers he heard from the doctor and listeners nod appreciatively, often not having any idea what the cholesterol levels or cholesterol ratio actually mean. Here we break it down for you. In plain talk, we'll tell you about the test, the different levels, what they mean and what you can do about them.

Cholesterol is often mentioned as if it's a dirty word. It's not. Cholesterol is in your blood naturally. Your liver makes it. You also get cholesterol from dairy products, eggs, and meat. Your body needs cholesterol to function normally. You need it to continue building healthy cells. The problem comes when your cholesterol numners are out of balance with what your body actually needs. A two minute blood test can give you and your doctor accurate information.

The TestA Cholesterol Test (also known as a complete fasting lipoprotein profile) reveals whether or not your cholesterol is in balance and keeping you healthy. It identifies if you are at risk for heart attack, stroke, or narrowing arteries in your arms and legs.

Anyone over age 20 should take this test once every five years. If possible, it's a good idea to get your first test before you get sick so that you have a baseline to measure change against. Your doctor may want to monitor you more often depending on other risk factors.

Controllable Risk Factors

  • Stressors that can be reduced or eliminated.
  • Diet
  • Lifestyle

Uncontrollable Risk Factors include

  • Gender—a woman's risk increases after menopause
  • Age increases your risk. (45 for increased risk for cholesterol levels for men, 55 for cholesterol levels for women)
  • Family History
    • Did your father or brother have heart disease before age 55?
    • Did your mother or sister have heart disease before age 65?
  • Stressors that cannot be eliminated

A Cholesterol Test can tell you four different things.

  • Your total cholesterol—good and bad.
  • Your bad cholesterol count
  • Your good cholesterol count
  • Your triglycerides count

Prepare for the test with a 9-12 hour fast from food, liquids and pills. Of course, check with your doctor before stopping any medicine.

So what do the numbers mean?

Let's look at the Total Cholesterol first. Whether it's the "good kind" or the "bad kind," your body can only handle a total of so much cholesterol.

Total Blood or Serum Cholesterol Level

Note: These numbers apply to testing in the United States. Canada and most of Europe use a different system for measuring cholesterol.

High Risk* 240 mg/dL +
Borderline High 200 to 239 mg/dL
Desirable Level Less than 200 mg

*Danger! You've doubled your risk for coronary heart disease!

LDL Cholesterol Level (Bad Cholesterol)

Most people talking about their bad cholesterol are generally referring to their LDL level. LDL stands for low density lipoprotein. The L in LDL can remind you this is the number you want to keep low. This number is more significant than your total cholesterol level when determining your risk for heart attack and stroke.

Here is what happens

Here's What Happens: 1. Excessive LDL level 2. Develops fatty deposits in blood 3. which may prevent the heart from getting as much oxygen out of the blood as it needs. 4. may lead to heart attack or decreased blood flow to the brain may create a stroke

Take a look at the chart below. Notice people who are at very high risk of heart disease need to keep their LDL level lower than people who have some risk for heart disease. That's important information when comparing your cholesterol level with someone else's numbers.

LDL Level (also known as Bad Cholesterol)

190 mg/dL and above Very high risk
160-189 mg/dL High risk
130-159 mg/dL Borderline high. At a minimum, lifestyle changes are definitely needed.
100-129 mg/dL Good, but could improve
Below 100 mg/dL Ideal for people with some risk of heart disease.
Below 70 mg/dL Ideal for people at very high risk of heart disease.

In rare instances, someone's bad cholesterol level can drop too low. Scientists are just beginning to analyze how this can impact the body's health. More research and many more studies are needed before conclusions can be applied to the public in general.

Doctors are concerned if your LDL is extremely low during pregnancy. Disturbingly low LDL can lead to early delivery and resulting complications. A pregnant woman's best protection is to make sure she completes all cholesterol tests ordered by her doctor, eats a healthy diet, and systematically follows her doctor's instructions on the type and amount of exercising.

Next, let's consider your HDL Level.

HDL stands for High Density Lipoprotein. It's the "good cholesterol." This is the stuff you want. Think of the H as identifying which cholesterol number you want high. HDL carries lipids to various parts of your body. Those lipids do a variety of functions within the body. Without HDL, the lipids would not get where they need to go and do what they need to do. Some of these benefits to you are:

  • Producing energy.
  • Enhancing brain functioning.
  • Aiding the body in absorbing nutrients like vitamins A & E.
  • Calming inflammation within the body.
  • Lubricating joints. (Rather like oiling your movable parts).
  • Supplying cell membranes with an extra coating of protection so that the cells can develop and function properly.
  • Stimulating hormone production.
  • Supporting communication between cells so that the body knows when to produce enzymes for digestion.
  • Impacting the functions of proteins.
  • Cleaning out excess cholesterol that could create a problem for you.

Interpreting HDL Numbers

For Men For Women
60 mg/dL and above
Protective against Heart Disease
60 mg/dL and above*
Protective against Heart Disease
Less than 40
(Major Risk for Heart Attack)
Less than 50
(Major Risk for Heart Attack)

HDL allows good things to happen. Don't worry about this number being too high, the higher the better. Even if your total cholesterol and your LDL (Bad cholesterol) numbers are within normal range, it is still to your benefit to have an HDL of greater than 60. Doctors believe when the HDL is above 60, the good cholesterol is not only doing its job of getting rid of the bad cholesterol, but it is also preventing heart disease.

?People often wonder if lifestyle makes any difference or if heart health has already been determined by family genetics. Both play a role in determining your personal health. The best advice is for you and your doctor to be aware of any genetic disposition and choose your lifestyle knowing that you have the power to challenge genetics.

Specific Actions You can take to Balance Your HDL Levels whether the doctor puts you on drug therapy or not.

Quit Smoking! Tobacco lowers your  HDL. Maintain a Healthy Weight. This is especially important if your excess weight is located between your waist and your hips. Increase oats, fruits, vegetables, and legumes in your diet. Eat a serving (3 Tablespoons) of these foods at least 2X per day. Drink more cranberry juice. Eat more fish. Aerobic Activity at least 4 Days per Week. This can be walking, jogging, or bike riding, any activity that raises your heart rate for at least 20 minutes. Remember: duration (how long you exercise) is more important than intensity (how hard you exercise.) Supplement your diet with calcium. Effective in post-menopausal women only. Sorry, men, you're out of luck on this one.

Don't allow recommendations for lifestyle changes to overwhelm you. Select the one action you believe would be the easiest to implement, and be faithful in that. It may mean drinking one small glass of cranberry juice per day instead of none. Or you may choose to no longer super-size your Fast Food Value Pack. When that specific choice has become a regular part of your routine, select your second easiest change to make. Each of these changes individually makes a difference. It's not all or nothing. Think of it as finding the right combination. Every move that clicks into place brings you one number closer to unlocking the combination to your best health.

In some cases, the cholesterol and triglycerides levels may be so concerning that your doctor orders you to do a drastic diet and lifestyle change. If that's the case, follow your doctor's directions to the letter and give yourself the support you need. Here are some ways to do that.

  1. Add an element of fun to the action. If you hate jogging in the neighborhood, but love window shopping, then walk around the mall. Hint: you might want to skip the Food Court.
  2. Incorporate your other goals into the plan so that you are accomplishing two things at once. e.g. A low-impact aerobic exercise could be raking leaves for 30 minutes.
  3. Make your plan as specific as possible. "I'm going to take my calcium pill every morning right after I brush my teeth."
  4. After you've completed the action, reward yourself, but not with a doughnut. e.g. "Every time I lose five (or ten) pounds, I'm going to get a professional manicure or have a night out with friends." This isn't really going to cost you. Remember, you're spending less money on food.
  5. When you resist the urge to do something that is bad for your health, replace the temptation with something that you'll enjoy, but that is not harmful. e.g. When you resist buying a carton of cigarettes, spend that $22.50 on a new scarf or a hat. Or put it in a jar to save for something big, like a plane ticket to somewhere you've always wanted to go.

Glass of WineRegarding alcohol. You may have heard that one or two glasses of wine can increase your HDL level. That's true. Of course, more than that can increase your health problems. In fact, some people develop those health problems even with only one or two drinks. Although much touted in the media, research regarding the link between alcohol and higher a HDL level is not yet conclusive. Due to the many serious health consequences associated with drinking, the American Heart Association cautions people who do not drink to not start drinking. The same benefits obtained through drinking wine can also be achieved by exercising, eating grapes, or drinking grape juice without incurring any of the harmful side-effects.

Triglycerides Chart

Very High 500 mg/dL or above
High 200 to 499 mg/dL
Borderline High 150 to 199 mg/dL
Normal Less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)

Your doctors may also want to check your Triglyceride level. When you eat, your body converts unused calories into Triglycerides. They store unused energy for later use between meals. Like cholesterol, triglycerides circulate in your blood. Also like cholesterol, the unused triglycerides do not dissolve, so if you regularly eat more calories than you burn, the excess will build up.

Although scientists are not sure how it happens, they see a consistent correlation between high triglycerides and hardening or thickening of the artery walls. The triglycerides deposit in the artery walls which then produces even more damaging substances. That puts you at risk for a stroke, heart attack and heart disease. If this limits the oxygen supply to your arms and legs, gangrene can set in. Scientific Note: Cigarette smoke (including second hand smoke) kicks the thickening and hardening of the artery walls into high gear. Fortunately for you, the same actions you can take to balance your cholesterol will also improve your triglyceride levels.

Having a greater understanding of how cholesterol functions within your body empowers you to influence those numbers and choose greater health.