What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a natural substance made by the body. Most of the cholesterol in our bloodstream (75%) is produced by the liver, and the remaining 25% comes from the foods we eat.
We all know that elevated blood cholesterol levels are not good for your health, but the right levels of cholesterol actually play a vital role in maintaining cell membranes and synthesizing hormones.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that one-third of adults have high cholesterol levels.
What Appears on Cholesterol Screenings
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (“good” cholesterol)
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol)
LDL Cholesterol: ‘Bad’ Cholesterol
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, is the type that tends to deposit on the walls of the arteries. White blood cells combine with the LDL cholesterol, forming artery-narrowing plaque, which restricts blood flow. The optimal level of LDL cholesterol for most people is 100 mg/dL or lower. If you have heart disease, you may need to strive for LDL levels of 70 mg/dL or lower.
HDL Cholesterol: ‘Good’ Cholesterol
Not all cholesterol is bad. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is considered “good” cholesterol because it actually works to keep the LDL, or “bad” cholesterol from building up in your arteries. The higher the HDL, the better. HDL levels of 60 mg/dL and higher can help reduce your risk for heart disease. Conversely, HDL levels of 40 mg/dL and lower are considered a high risk factor for developing heart disease.
Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood. Normal levels of triglycerides are 150 mg/dL and lower. Levels higher than that can raise your risk for heart disease and metabolic syndrome, which also is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Risk Factors for High Triglycerides
- Alcohol abuse
- Inactivity/Lack of exercise
A cholesterol test will measure the total cholesterol in your blood, and your total cholesterol levels are made up of a combination of your LDL, HDL, and VLDL (very low density lipoprotein, another “bad” cholesterol) levels. A total cholesterol score of 200 mg/dL or lower is considered optimal. Levels above 200 mg/dL are considered high and can mean you are at greater risk for developing heart disease.
When your health-care professional orders your blood cholesterol levels to be checked, he or she will interpret and discuss the results such as your cholesterol ratio and total cholesterol numbers (HDL, LDL, and VLDL), and what they each mean.
To calculate your cholesterol ratio, divide your total cholesterol number by your HDL cholesterol number. For example, if you have a total cholesterol score of 200 and an HDL score of 40; divide 200 by 40 and this equals a ratio of 5 to 1. The lower the ratio, the lower your risk of heart disease. Doctors recommend keeping your ratio 5 to 1 or lower. The optimal ratio is 3.5 to 1. While this ratio can be helpful in assessing risk for heart disease, your doctor will take into account your entire cholesterol profile and tell you what treatment is best for you.