You know getting your cholesterol checked is important, but you may wonder what all the numbers mean. At Pure Medicine, we use your cholesterol levels as a tool to help us assess your health and create a plan of action to either maintain your numbers or improve them. More specifically, we want your “good” cholesterol to be high and your “bad” cholesterol low.
Knowing what all the different numbers mean and why we want some numbers high and others low may help you better understand why this blood marker is so important for your health.
Cholesterol has kind of a bad rap, so you might be surprised to learn that it’s essential for good health. The waxy fat is found in every cell in your body and is used to make vitamin D, hormones, and bile, which is a substance your body needs to digest fat. Your liver can manufacture all the cholesterol your body needs.
However, you also get cholesterol from the food you eat, such as eggs, cheese, milk, and red meat. It’s not so much the cholesterol in these foods that are concerning, but the saturated fat. This type of fat, along with trans fat found in fried foods and baked goods, may cause your liver to make more cholesterol than you need, which isn’t good for your health.
Cholesterol travels in your blood, which is why we check your blood cholesterol levels to determine your numbers. Too much cholesterol in your blood leads to the buildup of plaque along your artery walls, which is known as atherosclerosis. The plaques narrow the artery passageways and increase your risk of heart disease. High blood cholesterol also increases your risk of developing blood clots and having a heart attack or stroke.
When we check your cholesterol numbers, we look at your total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) numbers.
LDL is the cholesterol that travels through your bloodstream and sticks to your artery walls causing the plaque buildup. A high level of LDL in your blood is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
When HDL cholesterol travels through your blood, it collects LDL and other substances from your blood, reducing risk of plaque buildup. The HDL then takes the LDL to your liver, where it’s processed and eliminated from your body to help lower your cholesterol. When your HDL levels are high, your risk of heart disease decreases.
In addition to total cholesterol, LDL, and HDL, you may also notice very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) numbers on your blood test. VLDL isn’t directly measured on standard cholesterol tests, so the number is just an estimate. VLDL carries triglycerides, and like LDL, is considered a bad cholesterol because it contributes to plaque buildup.
For good health, we recommend adults aim for:
The good news about cholesterol is that you can change your numbers. You can lower your total cholesterol and LDL numbers and improve HDL by making healthy food choices, being more active, and getting to and maintaining a healthy weight.
Adding specific foods to your diet may also help improve your numbers, such as:
The soluble fiber in the grains, fruits, and veggies grabs cholesterol in your gut and takes it out of your body. The healthy fats in salmon, soy, and nuts help reduce production of LDL.
If you’re still having a tough time improving your cholesterol after making lifestyle changes, we may recommend medications -- that lower your bad cholesterol and raise your good cholesterol -- to help improve your health and lessen your risk of heart disease.
4645 Avon Lane, Suite 200
Frisco, TX 75033
Phone: (469) 414-9660