Did you know that you need cholesterol to keep your body healthy? It makes up the cell walls so that they hold their shape and protect the organelles inside. The myelin sheath that protects the nerves is made of cholesterol, and it helps build many of the hormones your body could not function without.
The Two Types of Cholesterol
The “good” HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol should make up the highest portion of your total cholesterol, because another one of its functions is to rid the body of the unused “bad” LDL cholesterol that is floating around in your blood looking for a place to land. The LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is the one that sticks to your arterial walls and causes heart attacks and strokes.
Natural vs Dietary Cholesterol
Your body manufactures cholesterol in the liver. If you eat cholesterol (found only in meat products), the liver produces less. This is your body’s way of trying to balance the lipoproteins.
Cholesterol testing measures you LDL and HDL, and assesses the percentages. A low level of HDL is a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes, while a healthy level can decrease your risk by as much as 50%. There are medications that are designed to raise your HDL, but it can also be raised by increased physical activity and eating a healthy diet free of trans fats.
LDL cholesterol is also produced by the body naturally, but many people produce too much. A diet with trans-fat and saturated fats will further increase your LDL. If high levels of LDL cholesterol are common in your family, you may have to take medication to control it. When this condition is inherited, diet and physical activity may not lower it enough.
Your total Cholesterol should be below 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood. Your HDL goal should be at least 60 mg/dl, preferable higher. LDL should be below 100 mg/dl. These are standard numbers, but remember the lower your LDL, the better.
HDL must be above 40 mg/dl for a male or 50 mg/dl for a female. Otherwise, it is considered a major risk factor for a heart attack or stroke.
Smoking, as well as a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet will decrease your HDL cholesterol.
Paying attention to your cholesterol numbers and understanding them can help you live a longer, healthier life.