What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance your body uses to protect nerves, make cell tissues and produce certain hormones. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs. Your body also gets cholesterol directly from the food you eat (such as eggs, meats and dairy products). Too much cholesterol can have negative impacts on your health.
What is the difference between “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol?
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is often called “bad” cholesterol. It delivers cholesterol to the body. Highdensity lipoprotein (HDL) is often called “good” cholesterol. It removes cholesterol from the bloodstream. This explains why too much LDL cholesterol is bad for the body, and why a high level of HDL cholesterol is good. For example, if your total cholesterol level is high because of a high LDL level, you may be at a higherrisk of heart disease or stroke. But, if your total cholesterol level is high only because of a high HDL level, you’re probably not at higher risk. Triglycerides are another type of fat in your blood.
When you eat more calories than your body can use, it turns the extra calories into triglycerides. When you change your lifestyle to improve your cholesterol levels, you want to lower LDL, raise HDL and lower triglycerides.
Total cholesterol level
- Less than 200 is best.
- 200 to 239 is border-line high.
- 240 or more means you’re at increased risk for heart disease.
LDL cholesterol levels
- Below 100 is ideal for people who have a higher risk of heart disease.
- 100 to 129 is near optimal.
- 130 to 159 is border-line high.
- 160 or more means you’re at a higher risk for heart disease.
HDL cholesterol levels
- Less than 40 means you’re at higher risk for heart disease.
- 60 or higher greatly reduces your risk of heart disease
- Less than 150 mg/dL is best.
When should I start having my cholesterol level checked?
You can’t tell if you have high cholesterol without having it checked. All adults 20 years of age and older should have their cholesterol checked every 5 years. If your cholesterol level is high or you have other risk factors for heart disease, you may need to have it checked sooner and more often.
What about medicine to lower cholesterol?
Why is a high cholesterol level unhealthy?
While some cholesterol is needed for good health, too much cholesterol in your blood can increase your risk for heart disease, including heart attack or stroke. If you have high cholesterol, your body may store the extra cholesterol in your arteries. Your arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Buildup of cholesterol in your arteries is known as plaque. Over time, plaque can become hard and make your arteries narrow. Large deposits of plaque can completely block an artery. Cholesterol plaques can also split open, leading to formation of a blood clot that blocks the flow of blood. If an artery that supplies blood to the muscles in your heart becomes blocked, a heart attack can occur. If an artery that supplies blood to your brain becomes blocked, a stroke can occur.