Your Cholesterol Numbers â€“ What do they mean?
Barbara C. Phillips, NP
Today, many people understand that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States for both men and women.
The good news is that we have a good amount of control over this. Why? Because several of the factors that contribute to heart disease can be modified by you and me. For exampleâ€¦diabetes, our cholesterol levels, exercise, obesity, dietary intake and smoking.
When you visit your health care provider and they get a donation of blood from you to test your cholesterol or lipid panel, do you understand those numbers? Many people donâ€™t, and Iâ€™ll admit it took me a while to remember which numbers were good and bad. So, here is a break down of what they mean (with hints to help you remember) and what your â€œidealâ€ numbers should be.
Total cholesterol is the number you hear most of all and often just referred to as the â€œcholesterol levelâ€. It includes the good and bad kinds of cholesterol. Ideally this number will be less than 200.
The LDL or low density lipoprotein, is what is known as your bad cholesterol. This is the one that basically causes your vessels to plug up – ie, plaque build up. Ideally this number will be below 100. A good way to remember that this is the â€œbadâ€ cholesterol is to think of the LDL as being the â€œlousyâ€ cholesterol and the number should be low.
The HDL or the high density lipoprotein is your good cholesterol. This is the one that is protective of your heart. In women, this number should be above 50, in men, above 40. Think of the HDL as the â€œhealthyâ€ or â€œhappyâ€ lipoprotein and know that this number should be high.
The final number that you will often see is the triglyceride level. This is a different kind of lipid or fat that is often elevated in response to high fat and carbohydrate diets as well as in those who drink alcohol excessively. It is frequently elevated in those with insulin resistance and diabetes.
Treatment recommendations for numbers that are out of whack will depend on your own risk factors for heart disease, your individual results, and other health conditions that may be affecting you.
In many cases lifestyle choices can have a huge impact on keeping your cholesterol under control without medication â€“ but it does take consistent effort. Make sure you are getting exercise on a daily basis, eat low fat, moderate carbohydrates, keep your weight healthy, include more fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet. Make sure your daily intake of fiber is 35 grams or more, and of course, drink water.