Cholesterol is the fat-like substance found in the trillions of cells in your body. It plays a substantial role for your heart – the heart plays an ample part for your health – so cholesterol levels are important! Understanding your cholesterol levels will help you know any potential risks for the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States: heart disease.

Did you know there’s good cholesterol and bad cholesterol?

Cholesterol travels through your bloodstream in small packages called lipoproteins—made of fat (lipids) and protein. There are two types of lipoproteins: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL), and having healthy levels of both is important.

What is good cholesterol?
HDL cholesterol can be referred to as “good” cholesterol. This carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver: your liver then removes any excess amount of cholesterol from your body. Healthy HDL levels depend on any potential risk factors, gender and age.

What is bad cholesterol?
LDL cholesterol, otherwise known as “bad” cholesterol, transports cholesterol from the liver to the tissues of the body. When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it builds up in the walls of the arteries, which is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke. Lowering your cholesterol may slow, reduce or even stop buildup of plaque to the arteries, which is why it’s important to know your numbers.

How often should I check my cholesterol?
The American Heart Association recommends all adults age 20 or older have their cholesterol levels checked every four to six years as part of a cardiovascular risk assessment. This is done by a lipoprotein analysis (blood test). Individuals with higher risk of heart disease or stroke may need to be assessed more often.

What should the numbers read?
The test report will show cholesterol levels in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). The total cholesterol score is calculated by adding the LDL and HDL, as well as 20 percent of the common type of fat found in the body. The below facts are courtesy of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Good
Less than 200 mg/dL

Borderline bad
200-239 mg/dL

Bad
240 mg/dL and above

High cholesterol by age
Based on the percentage of LDL

        20s – 22%

        30s – 38%

        40s – 50%

        50s – 62%

Diet plays an important part in controlling your cholesterol levels. Consuming the right kinds of soluble fiber, lutein, mono- and polyunsaturated fats, omega-3s and fatty acids can assist in lowering your cholesterol. Popular foods known to help lower your cholesterol are oats, nuts, fish, olive oil, avocados, tea, garlic, spinach and even dark chocolate.

Do you know your numbers?

High cholesterol has no symptoms. 71 percent of Americans can’t recall what their cholesterol levels are. Schedule a test with your doctor to learn how you can best take care of your body. A healthcare provider will talk to you about your results and further discuss appropriate actions, if needed, to improve your overall health.