Cholesterol levels: High, low, good & bad

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CHOLESTEROL is a waxy material that is produced naturally by the liver. It protects the nerves, produces hormones and makes cell tissues, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. However, too much cholesterol can be a bad thing — which is why it’s important to manage it and keep it at reasonable levels.
People can check their cholesterol levels by getting a simple blood test. The test measures total cholesterol, HDL (high density lipoprotein), LDL (low density lipoprotein) and triglycerides, another type of fat in the blood stream.
HDL is the “good” cholesterol that keeps LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, down, according to the American Heart Association. Too much LDL cholesterol can cause deposits known as plaque to build up in the blood vessels, which causes a decrease the amount of blood and oxygen going to the heart. This, in turn, can lead to heart disease and heart attack.
When people learn they have high cholesterol, the value often reflects their LDL cholesterol levels, said Dr. Kavita Sharma, the clinical director of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center Lipid Clinic.
There are really no symptoms of high cholesterol. That’s why the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends getting your cholesterol checked at age 20, and then every five years after that. The doctor will be able to tell if the cholesterol levels have risen too quickly and can help formulate a treatment plan.
Bad cholesterol levels that narrow and harden the arteries are exacerbated by a diet rich in saturated fat, being overweight or obese, and having little or no physical activity. Foods high in saturated fats include fatty beef, pork, fried foods, as well as high-fat dairy products, such as milk, butter and cheeses made of high fat, Sharma said.
Trans fats, which can also raise LDL cholesterol levels, can be difficult to calculate. Observant eaters can look at nutrition labels to see how many trans fats are in their diet, Sharma said.
High cholesterol is also caused, in part, by genetics. For instance, familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic disorder, happens when the body is unable to remove LDL cholesterol from the blood, according to the NIH.
Age and gender are also risk factors. Women generally have lower LDL levels than men before menopause, but after menopause women’s cholesterol levels tend to rise, according to the American Heart Association. Smoking and diabetes are also risk factors for high cholesterol, according to the Mayo Clinic.
High triglycerides levels are also linked to an increased risk of blood vessel plaque formation and heart disease, Sharma said. They’re also linked to diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a condition related to high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, excess body fat around the waist and high cholesterol levels, according to the Mayo Clinic. A doctor may ask you to fast for 12 hours before taking a cholesterol test.

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