How healthy is your cholesterol level? What numbers should you aim for? And the lifestyle changes you must make to prevent your arteries from clogging are assessed in this article.
I recently had an opportunity to check my cholesterol level amongst other things such as glucose in the urine, protein in the urine, blood pressure, etc. I was quite optimistic about positive results being something of a health freak. “Ha, I shouldn’t have any problem with any of these tests”, I said.
The urine and blood pressure tests results were ok. But my total cholesterol was above 240mg/dl. The greatest shock of my life! How was that possible? After all, I am very careful about what I eat: wholemeal this, wholemeal that. I exercise. I am the right weight for my height and frame. I use soya oil. I eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
As I continued to lament, a friend reminded me of my love for rich cheeses, eggs, chicken drumsticks, and occasional french fries. Oh well! that was the eye-opener. My point is that you never know until you do a check. So, how healthy is your cholesterol level? What numbers should you aim for?
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in the blood, that can build up on the inside of artery walls. And later contributes to artery blockages that can lead to heart attacks. There are two types:
First, the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) known as the ‘bad’ type and higher risk.
Second, the high-density lipoprotein (HDL), known as the ‘good’ type and lower risk, helps prevent arteries from becoming clogged.
Yes, it’s normal and healthy to have cholesterol. But very high levels of cholesterol are dangerous.
How Cholesterol Is Measured
A blood test to check cholesterol levels typically measures the HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol to give total cholesterol. In order to measure cholesterol subtypes accurately, this test, called a lipid panel or lipid profile, requires that you avoid eating or drinking anything, other than water, for nine to 12 hours before your blood is drawn. Additionally, cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood.
What You Should Aim For
Since LDL cholesterol has a major link with heart disease, it’s normally the main focus of cholesterol-lowering treatment. Therefore, it’s essential to know your LDL target number. Though, the problem is that this target can vary, depending on your underlying risk of heart disease.
For instance, people at low risk of heart disease may be fine with an LDL level of 160 mg/dL. And those with a slightly higher risk should probably aim lower to reach 130 mg/dL. And while an LDL level less than 100 mg/dL seems to be good for most people. Some people at very high risk may need to try to get their LDL number less than 70 mg/dL.
Are You At Very High Risk?
You might be if you have had a heart attack in the past or if you have diabetes. You may also be in the very high-risk group if you have two or more of the following risk factors:
- High blood pressure
- Low good HDL cholesterol
- Family history of early onset heart disease
- Age older than 45 if you are a man. Or older than 55 if you are a woman
Healthy Lifestyle Changes You Must Make
If your LDL cholesterol is too high, the first thing your doctor will probably suggest is lifestyle changes. For example, eating more soluble fiber and less saturated fat and cholesterol can improve your cholesterol numbers.
Also, being overweight and inactive tends to increase your bad cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol. This is not what you want. Hence, exercising and losing weight can help reverse this trend. This is especially important for people who have large waist measurements. That is more than 40 inches for men and more than 35 inches for women. Since people with this body shape are more likely to develop heart disease.
However, when lifestyle changes are in itself not enough to reach your cholesterol targets, your doctor may prescribe medications to help lower your cholesterol. Equally significant to note is that these drugs are not substitutes for lifestyle changes. As you will still need to eat healthily and exercise.
Lastly, how healthy is your cholesterol level? In order to find out, you need to do a check. Particularly that high cholesterol doesn’t typically cause symptoms makes it imperative for everyone age 20 and older to get a cholesterol check at least once every five years. Similarly, a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease might make you more susceptible to the condition, even if you eat healthily and exercise. But by discovering the problem early through a check, makes it possible for you to take action on time before it is too late.
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