Having good cholesterol numbers is an effective way to keep your heart working in optimal condition. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), every person over the age of 20 should get their cholesterol levels tested at least once every five years.
The are three categories when it comes to cholesterol levels:
- High- Density Lipoprotein (HDL)
- Low- Density Lipoproteins (LDL)
- Total Cholesterol
Not only is it important to keep the levels of all three of these within the recommended range, but it is also wise to maintain your triglyceride level (a significant type of blood lipid) at the recommended level provided by the AHA.
What is Cholesterol?
Despite cholesterol bad reputation, the truth is that cholesterol is vital for many bodily functions. Problems arise when the levels of cholesterol in the blood go above the recommended levels. Cholesterol is a type of a sterol, and so has a chemical structure comprised of multiple rings bound to a side chain, like other sterols.
The role of sterols in the body is to transmit and receive chemical messages in the body. Cholesterol can be found in many of the body tissues, including those in the brain, nervous system and also in each cell of the body. It stabilizes and adds strength to the cell membranes and contributes towards the production of other sterols including adrenal hormones (cortisol for example), sex hormones (testosterone for example), vitamin D and bile acid.
Types of Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a type of fat molecule i.e. a lipid that is not soluble in water, therefore its movement in the bloodstream is limited. It is because of this that cholesterol needs to react and bind with proteins and form a lipoprotein, to enable it to move around freely in the bloodstream and travel to body cells for several bodily functions.
LDL and HDL differ in the ratio of proteins present in each. LDL contains approximately 25% protein and 50% cholesterol. HDL is composed of 50% protein and 20% cholesterol.
LDL is bad for the body and is referred to as the ‘bad cholesterol’, while HDL has many benefits for the body and is referred to as the ‘good’ cholesterol. This is because LDL ends up accumulating on arterial walls leading to the build-up of plaque which can cause heart diseases, whereas HDL works to protect and strengthen the heart.Total cholesterol is the sum of the LDL and HDL levels in blood along with the triglyceride levels.
Why is High Cholesterol Risky?
Due to cholesterol’s (particularly LDL) tendency to accumulate on the arterial walls as it travels around in the bloodstream, having a high cholesterol count in the blood can cause atherosclerosis.
Since cholesterol is a lipoprotein, fatty streaks, plaque and blood clot can obstruct the flow of the blood. If this occurs in a coronary artery, then it can lead to a heart attack. But if it happens in an artery leading to the brain, it can cause a stroke.
What are the Desirable and Risky Cholesterol Levels?
HDL plays a vital role in preventing plaque formation in the arteries. This is why maintaining a high level of HDL is beneficial for the body. As per the guidelines issued by the American Heart Association (AHA), the recommended level of HD in an adult male is 40 mg/dL while for women, the ideal level is 50 mg/dL.
An HDL less than these levels can pose the risk of a heart disease, while levels greater than these signify lowered chances for a heart attack or a similar heart disease.
LDL increases the likelihood of plaque accumulation and heart diseases, so it’s important to keep LDL levels low.
During childhood, the recommended LDL level lies between 25 and 50 mg/dL as plaque accumulation hasn’t started in the coronary artery’s walls yet. With age, the recommended level of LDL changes to a level less than 100 mg/dL.
Individuals with an increased likelihood of developing cardiac diseases such as diabetics and those with already prevailing heart diseases, it is recommended to maintain an LDL level of less than 70 mg/dL.
An LDL level between 160 and 189 and particularly those with levels greater than 190 have a very high risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. Triglycerides are the most common type of blood lipids. Those who have high triglyceride levels are very often at risk of diabetic and heart diseases.
Lower your Triglyceride Levels
The lower the triglyceride level, the better. The optimal level for triglycerides is 100 milligrams per deciliter. Less than 150 is normal while 150 to 199 is bordering on high. 200 to 499 is considered high risk and levels over 500 are very high risk. Possessing high triglyceride count in the blood can make a person very prone to developing diabetes. Therefore, it is better to keep triglyceride level as low as possible.
The recommended level of triglyceride is 100 mg/dL. Levels between 150 and 199 mg/dL can pose some health issues. Levels between 200 to 499 pose a higher risk, and maximum risk is greater than 500 mg/dL.
Total cholesterol is the sum of your LDL and HDL counts along with one-fifth of your triglyceride count. Ideal total cholesterol level lies below 200 mg/dL. While levels above 240 pose a very high risk to the overall health of a person.
The cholesterol chart above shows the different ranges for each cholesterol type. The chart can be a reference guide to interpreting your own numbers.