LDL Facts: The Bad Type Of Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that circulates in your blood. Your body uses it to make cells, hormones and vitamin D. Your liver makes all the cholesterol it needs from dietary fat.
Cholesterol does not dissolve in the blood. Instead, it is combined with transporters called lipoproteins to be transported between cells. Lipoproteins are made up of fat on the inside and protein on the outside.
“Good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol
There are two main types of cholesterol carried by different types of lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is sometimes referred to as “bad” cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol can build up in the arteries and lead to heart disease.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is called “good” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from other parts of the body to the liver. The liver then processes the cholesterol in the body. Healthy levels of these two types of cholesterol are important.
The dangers of high cholesterol
If your cholesterol levels are too high, deposits can form in the arteries. These fats cling to the walls of your blood vessels, causing them to harden and narrow. This is a disease called atherosclerosis. The small blood vessels carry blood that is low in oxygen. If oxygen does not reach the heart muscle, a heart attack may occur. If this happens in the brain, it can lead to a stroke.
What is a healthy cholesterol level?
Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) per tenth of a liter (dL) of blood. Your total cholesterol level – the sum of HDL and LDL – should be less than 200 mg/dL.
To break it down, your acceptable LDL (“bad”) cholesterol level should be less than 160 mg/dL, 130 mg/dL, or 100 mg/dL. The difference in these numbers is actually due to the fact that risk factors for heart disease vary from person to person.
Your HDL (“good”) cholesterol should be at least 35 mg/dL, and preferably higher. This is because the more HDL you have, the more protection you have against heart disease.
How often do you develop high cholesterol?
According to reliable sources, more than 73.5 million Americans, or about 32% of the U.S. population, have high LDL cholesterol. Of these people, one in three have their condition under control, and only about half are treated for high cholesterol.
People with high cholesterol levels are twice as likely to develop heart disease as healthy people. Statins are the most common drugs used to treat high cholesterol.
Who should be checked?
Everyone should have their cholesterol checked starting at age 20. But also every five years. However, risk levels usually do not rise until shortly after birth. Men should monitor their cholesterol levels more closely starting at age 45. Women tend to have lower cholesterol levels than men until menopause when cholesterol levels begin to rise. That’s why women should start regular checkups around age 55.
All adults should stay active and maintain a regular exercise program. Menopausal women and adults with high cholesterol levels should consider taking medications, which can help lower cholesterol levels faster than diet alone.
At any age, cholesterol can put you at risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. These risks only increase over time, especially for adults who don’t take action to reduce their cholesterol buildup.
Risk factors for high cholesterol levels
There are several factors that can put you at risk for developing high cholesterol. For some of them, there is nothing you can do about it. Cholesterol levels increase with age, especially in postmenopausal women. Genetics also play a role, as your genes partially determine the amount of cholesterol your liver produces. Look for a family history of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and early heart disease.
Do something about your other risks. Physical activity can lower cholesterol levels, as can reducing the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Losing weight can also help. If you smoke, quit – the habit can damage your blood vessels.
Cholesterol levels and age
Cholesterol levels rise with age. Doctors recommend taking steps early to prevent dangerously high cholesterol levels as you age. Years of uncontrolled cholesterol can be much more difficult to treat.
Children are less likely to have high cholesterol and only need to be tested once or twice before the age of 18.
However, if your child has risk factors for high cholesterol, he or she will need to be monitored more frequently.
In general, men tend to have higher lifetime cholesterol levels than women. In general, men’s cholesterol levels increase as they get older. However, women are not immune to the effects of high cholesterol. Women tend to experience elevated cholesterol as they enter menopause.
Generally speaking, the earlier adults begin a healthy lifestyle, the higher their cholesterol levels will be. Cholesterol levels can build up over time. Sudden lifestyle changes will eventually help, but the older you are, the less impact you will have on your cholesterol levels.
How to prevent high cholesterol
Lose weight and exercise
The General Surgeon General recommends exercising for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes a week, and 30 minutes or most days. Exercise can lower your LDL levels and raise your HDL levels. It can lower your cholesterol levels and help you lose weight. You don’t have to be overweight to lose all that weight. Just 5-10% of your body weight can help lower your cholesterol.
Eat it to keep your body and mind healthy
Try to reduce the amount of saturated fat that your body converts into cholesterol. Saturated fats are found in dairy products and fatty meats, so eat lean, skinless meats instead. Avoid trans fats, which are often found in commercial baked goods, such as cookies and crackers. Stock up on whole grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables.
Talk to your doctor
Have your cholesterol checked, especially if you are at risk. If your levels are high or borderline, see your doctor to find the best treatment option for you. Your doctor may prescribe a statin. Taking statins as prescribed can significantly lower your LDL levels. In fact, more than 30 million Americans take statins. If statins alone don’t work or if there are contraindications to statin use, other treatment options for high cholesterol are available.