Facts You Should Know About Cholesterol

It is important to learn how to lower cholesterol if you have high cholesterol, as high cholesterol levels can lead to a number of health conditions, including hypertension and heart disease. High cholesterol levels can also lead to the development of fatty deposits within your blood vessels. These deposits can cause a life-threatening clot that can lead to a stroke or heart attack.

Only a cholesterol test can detect your cholesterol levels as having a high cholesterol level does not generally present any form of symptoms until there is a serious risk for a heart attack or stroke. Fortunately, high cholesterol is preventable as the majority of risks involve lifestyle choices. You will have a higher risk for high cholesterol if you:

  • Have a poor diet, especially a diet that is high in sodium, saturated fat or trans fat.
  • Are obese, especially if you have a body max index (BMI) of 30 or greater.
  • Do not engage in routine exercise and you have a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Are diabetic.
  • Are a smoker.
  • Have high levels of stress.

The risk of high cholesterol is also higher as you age. This is due to the fact that bad cholesterol is not as readily removed from your bloodstream by your liver.  

When learning how to lower cholesterol, it is important to review the common myths about cholesterol, including:

  • All cholesterol is bad for you. Some types of cholesterol, such as high-density lipoprotein (HDL) is essential to your health and assist your body in making hormones and building cells.
  • High cholesterol presents symptoms. There are no signs or symptoms in most cases of high cholesterol until you have a significant risk for heart attack or stroke.
  • Nothing can be done to change cholesterol levels. There are several lifestyle changes that you can make to improve cholesterol levels and maintain a healthy range.
  • Medication is not needed to manage cholesterol. While some people can maintain healthy cholesterol levels with diet and exercise, there are genetic conditions that can cause high levels of low-density lipoprotein, also referred to as the “bad” cholesterol.

Types of Cholesterol

Good cholesterol levels vary by age range. However, before learning about these recommended levels, it is important to learn about the types of cholesterol, including the “good” and “bad” cholesterols.

“Good” cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (LDL), is essential in creating hormones and building cells. Having high levels of this type of cholesterol can reduce your risk for a heart attack, stroke or various forms of heart disease.

“Bad” cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), can build up plaque within the walls of your blood vessels. As this plaque builds, your blood vessels narrow, restricting blood flow and eventually blocking blood flow to and from your heart and organs. Should this happen, you will likely experience a stroke or heart attack.

While triglycerides and cholesterol are different types of lipids that have different functions, having high triglycerides can cause your arteries to thicken, thus, increasing the risk of heart disease, a heart attack or a stroke. High levels can also cause pancreatitis, an acute and sometimes life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas.

Good cholesterol levels in children have an acceptable range of total cholesterol of less than 170 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). The recommended range of LDL cholesterol in a child should also be less than 110 mg/dL. In a child, borderline high cholesterol consists of a range of between 110 and 129 mg/dL for LDL. High cholesterol is considered any LDL over 130 mg/dL.

For adults, a good cholesterol level consists of an overall level of 200 mg/dL. Any reading between 200 and 239 mg/dL is considered borderline high cholesterol and a very high cholesterol is diagnosed at 240 mg/dL and above. Additionally, LDL levels should be less than 100 mg/dL.

Learn About Cholesterol Level Tests and Checks

Bad cholesterol levels do not present symptoms until it is too late. Therefore, it is crucial that you have a cholesterol check done regularly in order to monitor your cholesterol. The American Heart Association currently recommends that adults 20 years of age or older check cholesterol levels every four to six years. However, anyone who is afflicted by a cardiovascular disease or has an elevated risk for high cholesterol may need to have cholesterol levels checked more frequently.

A cholesterol test can only be done as part of a blood test as only a blood test can measure the levels of HDL, LDL and triglycerides. For this test to provide accurate results, you cannot eat or drink any beverages other than water nine to twelve hours prior to your blood draw.

The American Heart Association strongly encourages cholesterol testing to be done with a licensed physician. However, there are cholesterol home testing kits that may be able to provide information on some, though generally not all, cholesterol levels. Should you choose to take a home test, it is imperative that you share the results with your doctor. If you do have high cholesterol, your doctor may also recommend certain home testing kits and provide you more information about your cholesterol numbers.

How to Manage Your Cholesterol

By learning how to lower cholesterol, you will be better prepared to manage your cholesterol with healthy lifestyle choices. In addition to participating in routine and recommended cholesterol tests, you can further reduce your risk of developing high cholesterol by:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Staying active and engaging in routine exercise.
  • Engaging in a healthy diet that restricts saturated fat, trans fat and sodium intake.
  • Not smoking or quitting if you do smoke.
  • Eating more of the omega-3 fatty acids that are found in fish.

Cholesterol supplements and medications may also be required, depending on your current cholesterol levels, family history, other medical conditions and risk for heart disease. Vitamins and supplements, including Niacin, can help to prevent your liver from removing HDL while lowering triglycerides. There are also several types of medications available, including:

  • Statins, which block the liver from producing cholesterol.
  • Bile acid sequestrates, which can reduce the amount of fat absorbed from the food that you eat.
  • Cholesterol absorption inhibitors, which target and reduce triglycerides within your bloodstream and reduce the amount of cholesterol that your body absorbs from food.

If you have high cholesterol or are at risk for high cholesterol, it is important to speak with your doctor about treatment options and lifestyle options that could help you prevent serious and life threatening conditions, including stroke, heart attack or heart disease.