Often, when we hear the word cholesterol, we think negative thoughts. Most often, what we hear is that cholesterol is bad for the heart. While this statement is true, it’s only partially true. Cholesterol, a form of fat, is produced naturally in our bodies and is a critical component of cell membranes. We need to produce cholesterol so that our cells, the building blocks of our bodies, function properly.
What’s confusing about cholesterol is the fact that there are two different types of cholesterol: good cholesterol, or HDL (high density lipoproteins), and bad cholesterol, or LDL (low density lipoproteins).
It’s easy to determine cholesterol levels. A simple blood test is all you need. What’s difficult is interpreting the results, comparing the results to the person’s lifestyle, health and family history and genetics, making a determination as to what is and is not considered dangerous based on these additional factors and then determining the most effective course of treatment should a situation be present. For the sake of simplicity, the best cholesterol test results are those with low LDL levels and high HDL levels. Why?
LDLs, the “bad” cholesterol enter the bloodstream and cause plaque to buildup on the artery walls. Over time, this buildup can block the flow of blood to the heart and cause a heart attack, or it can restrict the flow of oxygen to the brain and cause a stroke, neither of which is good. The “good” cholesterol, the HDLs, enter the bloodstream where they actually help to remove plaque buildup. The liver produces the good cholesterol, but when too much of the bad cholesterol is present, it acts to reduce the levels of this good cholesterol. With less good cholesterol in the bloodstream, the bad takes over and the damage continues in earnest.
To help determine a baseline from which to analyze cholesterol levels, determine “safe” ranges, and at what point are medications prescribed, laboratories use a basic chart and a classification system that includes, lower risk, moderate risk and high risk. The chart for the two types of cholesterol is as follows:
HDL Chart (mg/dL)
60 or above lower risk
41 to 59 moderate risk
40 or below high risk
LDL Chart (mg/dL)
100 or below lower risk
101 to 129 moderate risk
130 or above high risk
It’s recommended that women have their cholesterol checked every five years beginning at age 45. However, family history or other factors may change this timetable. For men, it’s recommended that testing begin as early as 20 and be repeated every five years as well. As with women, the timetable can be adjusted as necessary. Early detection of cholesterol-related problems is the best way to effectively reverse the potential for damage.
It’s never too late to make changes in your life to help keep cholesterol levels within “safe” ranges. Eating a low cholesterol diet and exercising are two effective changes anyone can make to help to keep the good cholesterol present in the bloodstream where it can perform its artery unclogging functions, and as a result, lower a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
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