To understand your cholesterol levels it is important to understand some of your body’s processes. Cholesterol, made in our liver, is a compound found in the majority of the tissues in our bodies, including our nerves and blood. It is a vital component of cell membranes and additionally works as a precursor for other steroid compounds.
Even though cholesterol is necessary for all animal life, high blood concentrations can prove dangerous and lead to plaque formation or atherosclerosis.
Have you ever pulled out a hair clog from your bathroom drain? Perhaps it was all thick and sludgy and there was slimy soap scum residue that had built up over a long period of time. Many people use this analogy when describing what your cardiovascular veins and arteries look like with atherosclerosis.
Depending on where you live, cholesterol levels may be measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood. The mg/dL is most commonly used in the U.S. while other countries tend to measure cholesterol in millimoles (mmol) per L of blood (abbreviated as mmol/L).
Once you receive your lipid profile or lipid panel results, you will be able to determine if your cholesterol falls in a healthy range or in a potential danger zone.
There are 4 cholesterol numbers that you will be given after being tested with a simple fasting blood test from your doctor. These are:
- Low-Density Lipoprotein or LDL
- High-Density Lipoprotein or HDL
- Triglycerides and
- Total Cholesterol
LDL Cholesterol (think of L as ‘Low Count’ cholesterol, due to its damaging effect on your cardiovascular system) is considered to be near the ideal range if it falls between 100-129 (2.6-3.3 mmol/L) range.
- It is considered to be ideal for people at risk of heart disease if it measures below 100 mg/dL (2.6 mmol/L).
- It is considered to be ideal for people at very high risk of heart disease if it falls below 70 mg/dL (1.8 mmol/L).
- Borderline High is 130-159 mg/dL (3.4-4.1 mmol/L)
- High is considered 160-189 mg/dL (4.1-4.9 mmol/L) or above 190 mg/dL (4.9 mmol/L).
HDL Cholesterol (think H for ‘Healthy’ cholesterol, since it returns damaging LDL cholesterol back to the liver where it can be subsequently broken down). This is the only type of cholesterol where higher numbers are better. It is recommended that your HDL cholesterol should be above 60 mg/dL. If your numbers measure lower, a variety of changes to your lifestyle can help to increase it.
Triglyceride Levels are considered to be in the healthy range if they fall below 150 mg/dL.
Total Cholesterol is considered to be desirable if it falls well below 200 mg/dL (5.2 mmol/L) with an optimal level of around 180 mg/dL.
- It falls into the borderline high range if it measures 200-239 mg/dL (5.2 – 6.2 mmol/L).
- High is above 240 mg/dL (6.2 mmol/L).
There is another test you can ask for if you feel the need. It is a VLDL. Very Low Density Lipoprotein is made up of a type of fat, also known as triglycerides and is particularly harmful. The healthy range is considered between 2 to 30 mg/dL. You may need to specifically request this test as typical cholesterol panels do not generally include this. It is important if you have a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease.
Do You Have Healthy or Unhealthy Cholesterol Levels?
Once you know your numbers you can take action where needed. If you need to lower your bad cholesterol numbers and raise the good levels, ask your doctor about making the necessary lifestyle changes to achieve your goals.