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Know Your Numbers: The good and the bad about cholesterol

Know Your Numbers: The good and the bad about cholesterol

Often when we think about cholesterol, we think of not so great things like heart disease, obesity and poor health. Cholesterol is a waxy substance our body produces naturally that is actually not bad. It’s present in the walls of every cell in the body including the brain, heart, nerves, muscles, skin and more. In short, your body needs cholesterol as part of a vital body system that helps our body’s metabolism, to create our cells and hormones, vitamin D and enzymes for digestion.

Cholesterol can come from two sources:

  • the liver, which stores glycogen for energy, metabolizes fat, carbohydrates and proteins and helps to detoxify the body and clear excess cholesterol from our systems by producing bile that is eliminated in the process of digestion
  • and, the foods we eat.

Although cholesterol by itself is not bad, too much cholesterol can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. It can build up in the arteries and over time can cause less blood and vital oxygen to travel to the heart. When you have your blood cholesterol tested, here are a few pointers in understanding your numbers:

  • Total Cholesterol: Total cholesterol is calculated by adding HDL, LDL and 20% of your triglycerides as a composite number. Generally, total cholesterol should be below 200. However, this number can be confusing to interpret because there are both “bad” and “good” cholesterol levels that should be considered.
  • LDL: LDL is known as the “bad” cholesterol and is attributed to fatty buildups in arteries, increased plaque and increased risk of heart attack, stroke and other artery diseases. Ideally LDL levels should be below 130, but should be evaluated by a physician if you have a family history of heart disease or you yourself have experienced heart problems.
  • HDL: HDL is known as the “good” cholesterol. The higher the levels, the better. The job of HDL cholesterol is to “clean” the blood and help remove the LDL cholesterol from circulation. It is believed that healthy levels of HDL help to protect the body from heart attack and stroke. Ideally this number should be above 50. Levels below 40 are considered a risk factor for increased heart health issues.
  • Triglycerides: Triglycerides are a type of fat that our body uses for energy. Normal levels of triglycerides vary depending on sex and age although normal levels are generally less than 150. Many people who have heart disease also have high triglyceride levels and high levels are also associated with incidence of diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Our genetics can also play a role in our triglyceride levels.

As a general rule to improve your cholesterol levels, live a moderately active lifestyle, maintain a healthy weight, eat wisely- avoiding processed and fatty foods, choose “healthy fats” such as avocados, nuts and olive oils, limit alcohol intake, and quit smoking.

Have Questions?

Campbell County Health Wellness works to reduce health risks and promote overall wellness among employee groups and individuals across the northeastern Wyoming region. At Wellness, you can receive daily community blood draws, lab tests, and health and wellness screenings in Gillette, Wyoming. To learn more about Wellness, please visit www.cchwyo.org/Wellness or call 307-688-8051.

This blog was written by Rachel Wilde, PBT, CPT, MA, CCH Wellness Services Technician and Phlebotomist