When it comes to cholesterol, it’s clear that lower is better. You’ve probably heard that lower cholesterol can help reduce your risk for heart disease, and that lower cholesterol levels can help manage your weight. All of these claims are true, and paying attention to your cholesterol and lowering it if necessary are key to your heart and overall health, but unless you are familiar with what exactly cholesterol is, where it is found and what role it plays in your body, it might be difficult to take control.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that helps your body continue building healthy cells. But not all cholesterol is created equal; HDL cholesterol, often referred to as the ‘good’ cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, called the ‘bad’ cholesterol, both have different functions once they’ve entered the body.
“Cholesterol can cause a problem when there is too much of it in your blood,” explains Aaron Giltner, MD, interventional cardiologist at Paoli Hospital. “That’s why it’s important to understand the cholesterol you’re taking in and what will happen to it once it’s in your body.”
LDL ‘bad’ Cholesterol
Excess levels of LDL can be dangerous to your health and put you at risk for serious health issues like heart attack or stroke. This type of cholesterol can cause plaque to build up in the walls of your arteries, which can lead to a complete blockage, reducing and restricting blood flow to important organs like the brain or heart. To keep a healthy level of LDL cholesterol and prevent any arterial blockage, doctors recommend no more than 100 mg/dL per day.
To control your LDL cholesterol, try and avoid meats, oils and animal-based products like cheese, cream and milk, which are all notorious culprits in high cholesterol. As a guide, one large egg has about 185 mg/dL of cholesterol.
HDL ‘good’ Cholesterol
HDL cholesterol plays a positive role in your body, clearing your arteries of the plaque and buildup that comes as a result of LDL cholesterol consumption.
“A little cholesterol, as long as it’s HDL, is good for you,” says Dr. Giltner. “Leafy greens, soy products and fish are all sources of good cholesterol and better for you than processed foods or red meats.”
To maintain a healthy level of HDL cholesterol in your body, aim for 60 mg/dL for both men and women. A higher level isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it can help protect against heart disease.
Monitoring and understanding the roles that LDL and HDL have in your body can help you to take control of your cholesterol, but other factors influence your risk for high cholesterol, as well. Age, gender, alcohol and tobacco use, weight and exercise can all play a part in having good cholesterol.
When was the last time you had your cholesterol levels checked? Make an appointment with a Main Line Health cardiologist today to make sure you’re on the road to heart health.