You probably read a lot of conflicting or confusing information about cholesterol, and no doubt have questions. Is it good? Is it bad? Should I eat eggs or not? The short answer is yes, but obviously, the detail is a bit more complicated. Let’s explore cholesterol and learn about what it is, what cholesterol numbers mean, and how you can stay healthy.
What is cholesterol, anyway?
Cholesterol is a fatty compound, known as a lipid, that your body uses to digest food, produce hormones, and make vitamin D. Your body produces all the cholesterol it needs, but it’s also present in many of the foods you eat. If you eat too many cholesterol-rich foods, your cholesterol levels can increase, which may lead to health problems.
You have three types of cholesterol: low-density lipoproteins (LDL), high-density lipoproteins (HDL), and triglycerides. While you need to have a certain amount of each type of cholesterol, you also need to maintain them in a specific balance.
LDL, sometimes referred to as the “bad” cholesterol, travels through your bloodstream, depositing itself wherever your body needs it. It’s labeled as bad cholesterol because when you have too much of it, the excess ends up deposited in your arteries.
HDL is called the “good” cholesterol because it picks up excess LDL cholesterol from your arteries. HDL takes extra LDL cholesterol to your liver, where it’s processed and removed from your body.
Triglycerides are another type of lipid in your blood. Your body makes triglycerides with the calories it doesn’t need to use right away. The substance is stored in your cells until your body releases them for energy between meals. High levels of triglycerides contribute to the hardening or thickening of your artery walls as well as pancreatitis.
What’s a good cholesterol number?
You want low LDL and triglyceride levels, but higher HDL levels. Optimal LDL levels are less than 100 and are still considered near optimal if they’re less than 130. Your HDL level should be 60 or higher, and it’s a risk to your health if it’s less than 40. Your triglycerides should be less than 150.
While you need to consider your cholesterol numbers individually, you should also think about your cholesterol ratio (divide your total cholesterol numbers by your HDL number). Ideally, your cholesterol ratio should be between 3.5 and 1. This can get complicated if all your cholesterol levels are high, but you have sufficient HDL to clear the extra LDL from your blood effectively.
Why do my cholesterol numbers matter?
High cholesterol is an early warning sign of cardiovascular disease. Like hypertension, another warning sign, high cholesterol doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms. Often, people don’t know they have high cholesterol until they have a serious cardiac event like a heart attack.
Everyone over the age of 20 should have their cholesterol levels tested at least every five years. A cholesterol test is called a lipid panel and is available during standard blood tests performed during your adult wellness exam.
Keeping an eye on your cholesterol levels, as well as your blood pressure, blood sugar, and other factors, helps you monitor your health. Here at Advance Medical Group, with offices in Hackensack, Paramus, and Haledon, New Jersey, we offer customized wellness plans to regulate your cholesterol and other risk factors to optimize your health.
How can I manage my cholesterol?
If your blood work shows elevated cholesterol, we can help you lower your numbers and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Depending on your needs, we might use lifestyle modifications to lower your cholesterol, including:
- Dietary changes
- Adding physical activity to your daily routine
- Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight
- Smoking cessation
However, if lifestyle changes aren’t enough to help you reach healthy cholesterol levels, we can also prescribe medicines such as cholesterol absorption inhibitors and fibrates.
If you’re due for a cholesterol screening or wellness exam, or you want to check in on your health, call Advance Medical Group at one of our three convenient locations or make an appointment online today.