Cholesterol is bad, right? Well, not all cholesterol. Read my simple explanation about the basics of cholesterol and having healthy blood.
You can tell a lot about your health by looking at your blood. When I turned 50 I decided to get a complete physical. As part of the physical, my blood was drawn and among other tests, a Lipid Panel was done.
A lipid panel is a blood test that measures the amount of cholesterol and fats called triglycerides in the blood. These measurements give the doctor a quick snapshot of what's going on in your blood. Cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood can clog arteries, making you more likely to develop heart disease. Thus, these tests can help predict your risk of heart disease and allow you to make early lifestyle changes that lower cholesterol and triglycerides.
What does all that mean, you ask? Well, I'll try to give you a simple explanation of five simple concepts.
You have two kinds of cholesterol in your blood - High-density lipoprotein (HDL) and Low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Basically, HDL is good and LDL is bad.
1. LDL Cholesterol
LDL cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and make them less flexible. This condition is known as atherosclerosis. If a clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, heart attack or stroke can result. Another condition called peripheral artery disease can develop when plaque buildup narrows an artery supplying blood to the legs. (source: AHA)
2. HDL Cholesterol
HDL is a friendly scavenger that cruises the bloodstream. As it does, it removes harmful bad cholesterol from where it doesn't belong. High HDL levels reduce the risk for heart disease -- but low levels increase the risk.
3. Healthy Cholesterol Levels
So what are healthy levels for each type of cholesterol?
So basically you want your total cholesterol below 200, your LDL cholesterol below 100, and your HDL cholesterol above 60. That's the desirable range. My total cholesterol was 168, LDL was 107 and HDL was 47. So my total was desirable, my LDL was near desirable and my HDL was in the better, but not best range. So I'm not in any danger zone, but there is some room for improvement. A year ago I was on high cholesterol medication. My total and LDL were ok, but my HDL was at 29, so I consider my current numbers a huge improvement, given that I don't take medication any more.
There's another number reported on the lipid panel, a Triglycerides level. What is that? The Mayo clinic says that Triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) found in your blood. When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn't need to use right away into triglycerides. The triglycerides are stored in your fat cells. Later, hormones release triglycerides for energy between meals. If you regularly eat more calories than you burn, particularly "easy" calories like carbohydrates and fats, you may have high triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia).
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that a triglyceride level of 100 mg/dL (1.1 mmol/L) or lower is considered "optimal." The AHA says this optimal level would improve your heart health. However, the AHA doesn't recommend drug treatment to reach this level. Instead, for those trying to lower their triglycerides to this level, lifestyle changes such as diet, weight loss and physical activity are encouraged. That's because triglycerides usually respond well to dietary and lifestyle changes.
My Triglycerides level came in at 72. Since this is in the optimal range, I consider that another success.
5. VLDL Cholesterol
The last number reported on my lipid panel was VLDL cholesterol. According to the Mayo Clinic, Very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol is a type of lipoprotein. Of the lipoprotein types, VLDL contains the highest amount of triglyceride. Because it contains a high level of triglyceride, having a high VLDL level means you may have an increased risk of coronary artery disease, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Higher amounts and large VLDL particles are also associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure and stroke.
VLDL cholesterol is reportedly more difficult to measure, but my panel said that my level was 14. A normal VLDL cholesterol level is between 5 and 30 milligrams per deciliter, so again I'm in the good range.
Get Your Own Numbers
I strongly encourage you to go to your doctor and have a lipid panel performed. It is quick and easy, insurance typically covers it, and as you see above, it really gives you a sense of how you're doing from a fitness perspective.
I think in general you can guess how you're doing. If you're not exercising or eating right, chances are your levels aren't ideal and you're at risk of some form of heart disease. If you are living a more healthy lifestyle, there's no guarantee that your levels will be ideal, but in general they should be acceptable. In my case, that proved to be the case. Between you and me, the medications they give you for high cholesterol, while reducing your risk for heart disease, have a number of other potential side effects that you really want to avoid. Just do like I did - eat right, exercise regularly, feel good and your body will reward you.