Cholesterol: What’s in a Number?

It used to be enough to know your cholesterol number. Today, you need to know your cholesterol numbers. That’s because your cholesterol total doesn’t tell the whole story. A lipid (or lipoprotein) profile will. This simple blood test, done after an overnight fast, will show:

  • Your total cholesterol
  • Your “good” (HDL) cholesterol level (the kind that carries the cholesterol to your liver to be eliminated)
  • Your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol (the kind that causes fatty buildup in the arteries)

For optimal protection against heart disease, you should try to improve your “good” scores and lower your “bad” scores, health experts say. Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) per deciliter (dL) of blood. What numbers should you aim for? The National Cholesterol Education Program has set these guidelines for people over age 20 with no heart disease: (People with heart disease or significant risk factors often have stricter cholesterol guidelines.)

  • Desirable: Total blood cholesterol less than 200 mg/dL; LDL below 130 mg/dL.
  • Borderline High: Total blood cholesterol between 200 and 239 mg/dL; LDL from 130 to 159.
  • High: Total blood cholesterol at or above 240 mg/dL; LDL is 160 mg/dL or higher.

Whatever your health, age or current score, you can benefit from taking steps to improve your cholesterol profile. To reduce your risk, the NCEP recommends trying a little TLC. That’s Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes! Here’s some of what it takes:

  • Diet: Stick to foods low in saturated fats: low-fat or fat-free dairy products, lean meats, fish, skinless poultry, whole-grain foods, fruits and vegetables. Look for soft margarines (liquid or tub) that are low in saturated fat and contain little or no “trans” fat (another kind of dietary fat that can raise your cholesterol level). Limit foods high in cholesterol. Many of our nutritional supplements – bars, drinks, soups – have no cholesterol. How you eat may make a difference, too. Recent studies indicate that eating six smaller meals a day, rather than two or three large meals, can help shave points from your cholesterol levels. Researchers theorize that large meals send the body into cholesterol-producing overdrive.
  • Weight Management: If you are overweight, losing weight can help lower LDL and reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome, a dangerous constellation of problems that puts you at high risk for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Get the details about your cholesterol numbers by contacting your physician.

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January 2022