Did you know that about half of American adults have cholesterol levels that are too high? It may also surprise you to know that all cholesterol is not bad. It is important to understand what the differences are because too much or not enough of one type or another can put you at risk for heart disease.
The majority of cholesterol comes from the body, and the remaining from food, specifically animal products. There are two types of cholesterol, HDL (good) and LDL (bad). These are called lipoproteins and they carry cholesterol to the cells.
When you have too much LDL cholesterol, it can combine with white blood cells and fats to create plaque in your veins and arteries. This can block blood from flowing through the arteries and lead to heart damage or failure. If the buildup of plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form and then prevent blood flow to the heart and brain, causing a heart attack or stroke.
HDL cholesterol works to your advantage to help unclog arteries that can be blocked by LDL cholesterol and it helps remove cholesterol from the blood. For heart health it is essential to have a high level of HDL cholesterol and low level of LDL cholesterol.
The recommended level for LDL cholesterol is under 160 mg/dL, for HDL cholesterol over 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dLfor women, and under 150 mg/dL for triglycerides (blood fats). If your total cholesterol is over 200 mg/dL, you need to talk to your doctor and take action that may include:
- Eat better – move towards a more healthy diet that is low in cholesterol, trans fats and saturated fats, and high in fiber (e.g. fruits and vegetables). Avoid food from animals (e.g. fatty meats, whole-milk dairy products and egg yolks). Maintain a healthy weight as a result.
- Be active – one of the seven steps toward a healthy heart and a very important way for your body to create more good cholesterol and decrease your risk of heart-related conditions. Exercising at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week is recommended.
- Regular screenings – detecting high cholesterol early can help you begin to lower it. Because high cholesterol has no symptoms, it is important to have it tested.
- Work with your doctor to create the right treatment plan to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
- Quit Smoking
- Take medication if prescribed
Emory Healthcare is a proud sponsor of American Heart Association’s My Heart. My Life Campaign that promotes My Life Check – Life’s Simple 7. Controlling your cholesterol is one of the 7 steps to a healthier heart.
Learn more about The Emory Heart & Vascular Center’s Heart Disease Prevention Program.
About Dr. Jefferson Baer
Dr. Baer is a cardiologist at the Emory Heart & Vascular Center, and is the Director of Preventive Cardiology at Emory University Hospital Midtown. He specializes in general cardiology, lipid metabolism, preventive cardiology and valve disease. He is highly regarded in the physician community for his expertise in preventing heart disease.