Do you know your level of risk for heart disease?
Understanding your cholesterol readings and family history can help determine your level of risk.
Research has shown that we develop high, unhealthy, levels of cholesterol when we have too much LDL (low density lipoprotein) circulating in our bodies. Although LDL is often called the “bad cholesterol, it is actually a cholesterol carrier and is considered to be bad because its function is to transport cholesterol into our blood vessels. Too much cholesterol deposited in the blood vessels can lead to plaque build-up, hardening of the arteries (athero-sclerosis), and heart disease.
2 CAUSES OF LDL
HDL (high density lipoprotein), on the other hand, is referred to as the “good cholesterol” because this type of lipoprotein removes excess cholesterol from our blood vessels. Therefore, HDL is like a drain cleaner for your blood vessels, helping to keep the arteries clear of harmful cholesterol plaques that can build up in the lining of your arteries. Obviously, producing elevated levels of HDL in the body is thought to be a very good thing to do for cardiovascular health, and this is why your medical doctor wants to know your HDL level when conducting a blood analysis. High levels of HDL in the body is thought to be beneficial to reducing your risk of coronary heart disease whereas a low level is thought to increase your risk.
Due to the beneficial effects of HDL and harmful effects of LDL, it is important to know you HDL and LDL levels as derived from a blood test. Obviously, the best HDL/LDL ratio is when your HDL is “high” and your LDL is “low.”
There are two primary ways we develop high levels of LDL in our bodies. One way is by eating a diet high in saturated fats combined with lack of exercise. The other way is by inheritance or genetics. High levels of LDL, could be an inherited genetic chemistry trait from your family members. If family members have high cholesterol or heart problems, a proper diet low in cholesterol and bad fats is crucial along with proper exercise. It is best to consult your medical doctor about your cholesterol level and develop a sound plan for reducing high levels of cholesterol. In some cases, a cholesterol-reducing drug (e.g., statin drugs) may be recommended by your doctor if he or she feels that diet and exercise are not enough to compensate for cases when there is excessive production of cholesterol by the liver.
A desirable total cholesterol level as tested in the blood should be less than 200 mg/dl. The following guidelines for assessing cholesterol levels were published by the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP). According to NCEP and the general medical community, a total cholesterol number above 200 indicates an increased risk of heart disease.
ABOUT THE READINGS
• You have high cholesterol if your total cholesterol reading is above 240mg/dl. When a cholesterol reading is 240 mg/dl or higher, a person will
have twice the risk of heart disease compared with someone whose cholesterol is 200 mg/dl. It is estimated that approximately 20 percent (1 of 5) of the American adult population has a high blood cholesterol level of 240mg/dl or greater.
• You have borderline high cholesterol when the total cholesterol number is between 200 and 239 mg/dl More than half the adults in the United States have levels above 200 mg/dl. This means that more than half of our nations’ adult population is at increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
A blood test to assess your lipoprotein profile should be conducted by your medical doctor if your total cholesterol number is above 200 or “borderline”. This profile will provide you with specific levels of your HDL and LDL cholesterol as well as your triglycerides. According to the NCEP cholesterol guidelines, everyone over the age of 20 should have their cholesterol checked once every 5 years.
Lowering cholesterol is important at any age and regardless of one’s health status. Lowering cholesterol in the blood can be difficult for some people, even if they watch their diets and exercise daily due to age, gender, or family history. If a person realizes that he or she is not eating a balanced diet and/or not getting enough exercise, then the good news is that a few lifestyle changes, especially dietary changes, may be all that is needed to lower cholesterol.