High blood cholesterol affects over 65 million Americans and I am one of those people, as are each of my parents. Often genetic, high cholesterol is a serious condition that increases one’s risk for heart disease. The higher the cholesterol level, the greater the risk.
The scary thing with cholesterol is that it can be high and you may not even know it. Lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens your risk for developing heart disease and reduces the chance of having a heart attack or dying of heart disease.
September is designated National Cholesterol Education Month by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). It is a good time to learn about cholesterol and lipid profiles, to get your blood cholesterol checked, to take steps to lowering it if it is high, and to learn about food and lifestyle choices that can help you reach your personal cholesterol goals.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance among the lipids (fats) found in the bloodstream and in all body cells. It is used to form cell membranes, produce hormones, and for other bodily functions. Fats, including cholesterol, cannot dissolve in blood and are transported by lipoproteins. Too much cholesterol in the blood (hypercholesterolemia) is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease.
The correct way to have your cholesterol tested is by having a “fasting” blood draw. For 12 hours before you go to the doctor or lab, you must not eat. You should drink water to stay hydrated, but food can make the test inaccurate. In the United States, cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood. In Canada and the UK, they are measured in millimoles per litre (mmol/L).
In July my blood results were:
* Total Cholesterol: 209 mg/dL (up from 205 mg/dL in February)
* HDL (good) Cholesterol: 43 mg/dL (down from 44 mg/dL in February)
* LDL (bad) Cholesterol: 150 mg/dL (up from 143 mg/dL in February)
* Triglycerides: 81 mg/dL (down from 89 mg/dL in February)
Although I lost 24 pounds in the five months between these two blood draws, only triglycerides levels were improved. You would think that the other measures would have improved as well. But alas, they did not. So my rheumatologist prescribed a statin medication which will (hopefully) help me to lower my cholesterol levels. We are retesting and re-evaluting in October.
High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) or “Good” Cholesterol
Where “good” cholesterol is concerned, higher is better. HDL levels in the average man range 40-50 mg/dL (1.04-1.30 mmol/L). In the average woman, they range 50-60 mg/dL (1.30-1.55 mmol/L). A low HDL level, which is less than 40 mg/dL (1.04 mmol/L) for men or less than 50 mg/dL (1.30 mmol/L) for women, increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Conversely, an HDL cholesterol of 60 mg/dL (1.55 mmol/L) or higher gives some protection against heart disease. Increasing physical activity and losing weight can help to raise HDL levels.