Many women believe they don't need to get their cholesterol checked unless their doctor tells them they have a problem. This simply isn't true. The Mayo Clinic suggests women should have their cholesterol checked every 5 years after age 20. Knowing your numbers is your first line of defense against heart disease, and may prompt you to change your lifestyle before it's too late.
The following guide breaks down different types of cholesterol, and what you can do to achieve healthy levels.
Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) is considered the "bad" cholesterol, because it can build up in your arteries and cause plaque. Aim for LDL levels of less than 100mg/dL. Levels above 130mg/dL are considered borderline high, over 160 mg/dL are high and above 190 mg/dL are very high.
Any food that comes from an animal contains cholesterol. This includes fish, eggs and dairy products, as well as meat. Choosing lean meats and low fat dairy, and adding more soluble fiber to your diet can help lower LDL. Fiber helps absorb cholesterol and remove it from your blood stream.
Losing weight, whether through diet or exercise, also decreases your levels of LDL, especially if you carry weight around your waist. Having a waist of more than 35 inches for a woman and 40 inches for a man usually signals high LDL production.
Not all LDL production is a result of lifestyle. Some people are genetically predisposed to create more of it. Your doctor may prescribe medicine to lower LDL and raise HDL when diet and exercise alone aren't enough.
High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) is called the "good" cholesterol because experts believe it removes plaque from the arteries, guarding against heart disease. Less than 50mg/dL is considered low HDL levels. Raising your HDL to 60 mg/dL or more can protect against heart disease.
You can raise your HDL by exercising and eliminating trans fatty acids in your diet. Drinking alcohol in moderation may increase HDL levels, but any more than moderate amounts can increase your risk of heart disease and adversely affect your overall health. Individual chemistry also plays a role, so ask your doctor before changing your diet.
Triglycerides are fat that float in the bloodstream, sticking to the sides of artery walls, which can eventually cause a block or blood clot that can result in a heart attack or stroke.
It's best to have triglyceride levels of less than 100 mg/dL. Levels of over 150 mg/dL are considered borderline high, over 200 mg/dL are high and over 500 mg/dL are very high. Methods for lowering triglycerides are similar to those for lowering LDL.
Page 2 of 2 - Total Cholesterol
A total cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dL is desirable for a lower risk of heart attack or stroke. Anything above 240 mg/dL is high, and people with these levels more than double their risk of heart disease.
With healthy habits, you can reduce your overall cholesterol, raise HDL and lower LDL.