Many people are worried about their cholesterol levels because high cholesterol is directly linked to heart disease and overall heart problems. When doctors look at your cholesterol levels, however, there are three different measurements that they are concerned about which are: your total cholesterol level, the bad cholesterol in your body, and the good cholesterol in your body. Each of these measurements has to do with a different aspect of your heart health, and there are different benchmarks for each type of cholesterol.In this article, we’ll take a look at each of these three measures of cholesterol, how they affect your overall heart health, and what the standard levels ideally should be.
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Total Cholesterol Level
When considering heart health and overall cholesterol levels, doctors will look for the total cholesterol level in your blood. Your total cholesterol is the sum of your HDL and LDL cholesterol levels and it is a good gauge as to how your heart is doing at a basic level. As one would expect, a high total cholesterol level usually indicates that you are at risk for heart disease, so this is certainly a figure to keep a close eye on.
In most cases and for most individuals, your total cholesterol level should be less than 200. Anything over 240 is considered a significant risk that requires dietary or medical intervention.
Often, when people are talking about cholesterol, they are particularly concerned about their LDL, or “bad” cholesterol levels. If this level is too high, it can clog your arteries, making it more difficult for blood to circulate through your system. As a result, your heart has to work harder to pump blood, making you feel sluggish, short of breath, and in overall bad health. All of these factors increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
“Bad” cholesterol appears in very specific types of food. Some of these may be common knowledge, but here are some popular foods that provide your body with “bad” cholesterol and should be consumed very sparingly:
- -Cheeseburgers and fast food items
- -Oily and Fried foods
- -Whole-milk dairy products such as cheese
- -Ice Cream
- -Bacon and Sausage
- -Certain shellfish such as Shrimp and Lobster
- -Egg Yolks
- -Duck and goose (and even chicken, especially with skin on)
Ideally, LDL levels should be less than 100. However, having a level of less than 130 is generally considered safe. Anything over 150 is considered a significant risk; these high levels often lead to heart disease.
In terms of testing for LDL, when you get an LDL cholesterol test, you usually have to fast overnight first. This is because doctors also check your fasting triglyceride levels. Your fasting triglyceride level should be less than 200.
With all the bad also comes the good, and as far as “good” cholesterol is concerned, HDL cholesterol is considered healthy for your body and you need to have enough of it in order to protect your heart from disease. There are a number of widely available foods that are loaded with HDL, or “good” cholesterol, that can be easily incorporated into any type of diet:
- -Sunflower seeds and flaxseeds
- -Various nuts such as peanuts, pecans, almonds, and walnuts
- -Omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
- -Magnesium-rich foods such as spinach, potatoes, bananas, and seaweed
- -Coconut oil
- -High-fiber oatmeal and oat bran
Taken in moderation, of course, any of these above food items are a great way to increase HDL consumption and to promote good heart and cholesterol health. As a general rule, HDL cholesterol levels should be at least 40. Women should have an HDL level of at least 45.
Solutions to Cholesterol Problems
Cholesterol levels are a core aspect of anyone’s overall health, and in this day and age where gluttony and excess in eating is so rampant, cholesterol problems are occurring in younger patients than ever before. That said, as a solution to cholesterol problems, your doctor's recommendations will vary based on your personal situation such as age, level of fitness and overall health, taking into consider other possible health conditions or injuries. And remember, cholesterol is only one predictor of heart disease; obesity, family history and other factors are also of concern to most doctors when considering one’s heart health.
- Exercise: The first rule of improving your overall heart health is seeking to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. Regular exercise keeps the heart and body moving, and strengthens it over time.
- Dietary Changes: In addition to exercise, doctors recommend dietary changes to keep cholesterol under control. Eating a low fat, high fiber diet can often help you lower your cholesterol levels. It's especially important to avoid saturated fat and trans fats. To avoid trans fats, read ingredients carefully and avoid anything made with partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated vegetable oil. You should also reduce your intake of margarine in order to protect your heart health.
- Specific recommendations:Some doctors may recommend adding garlic to your diet, as garlic lowers LDL levels without affecting your HDL cholesterol.(Talk to your doctor before taking garlic or garlic supplements). For more complex cases, doctors can prescribe medication that helps to regulate cholesterol, which you can read more about in the following section.
Sometimes your doctor may prescribe medication to help you get your cholesterol back under control when other options are not available, or when your cholesterol is at a particularly alarming level. The most common type of cholesterol medication is statin drugs. These medications work by stopping your liver from producing enzymes that raise your cholesterol. Over time, these medications can impede liver function, so you have to have regular blood tests to make sure you don't have liver disease while on them.
A certain level of high cholesterol can mean you are at greater risk of heart disease, so your doctor will act quickly to intervene with cholesterol problems. With the above pieces of information in mind, medication, diet and exercise are commonly used together to help lower your LDL cholesterol levels and raise your HDL cholesterol levels for optimum heart health.