If the names and numbers that surround cholesterol are confusing you, you’re not alone. But don’t be overwhelmed. Understanding cholesterol is the first step in making sure yours is under control.
What is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a lipid, or fat. And your liver produces roughly 75 percent of the cholesterol in your body — only 25 percent is from diet. What’s more, there are different types of cholesterol: low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is often called “bad” cholesterol and HDL “good.” Cholesterol gets around your body via the bloodstream. HDL is responsible for carrying cholesterol back to the liver, where it is excreted. When your blood contains more LDL than HDL cholesterol, LDL particles aren’t carried back out of the bloodstream. Excess LDL can then clog and harden arteries — a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, heart attack or stroke.
A good rule of thumb is to remember the numbers 40, 100 and 150 when thinking about cholesterol.
- HDL level should be above 40 mg/dL
- LDL level should be less than 100 mg/dL
- Triglyceride (another kind of blood fat) level should be less than 150 mg/dL
What can I do to keep my cholesterol in check?
The American Heart Association recommends that all women and men age 20 and older have a cholesterol test every five years. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, you and your health care provider should discuss how to manage your cholesterol. Often, this simply means dietary changes and exercising more.