High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Find out what your numbers mean and how to have healthy cholesterol levels. Cholesterol - the waxy, fat-like substance found in your blood - is naturally produced by your body. About 75 percent of cholesterol is made in your liver and other cells, and it’s a needed part of your digestive system. Cholesterol also comes from the animal-based foods you eat, ranging from steak to whole milk to eggs.
Cholesterol exists in two distinct forms: High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is considered “good” cholesterol because it helps prevent fatty buildup along your arteries. LDL cholesterol is known as “bad” cholesterol because it does just the opposite, building up in the walls of your blood vessels. When cholesterol-based material, or plaque, builds up along your arteries, it clogs them and can lead to blockages.
Know Your Numbers
Here are general guidelines from the National Cholesterol Education Program:
- Less than 200: desirable
- 200 to 239: borderline high
- 240 or greater: high
- Less than 100: optimal
- 100 to 129: near optimal/above optimal
- 130 to 159: borderline high
- 160 to 189: high
- 190 or greater: very high
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- Less than 40: low
- 60 or greater: high (desirable)
Components of Cholesterol Tests
Your cholesterol report includes a few readings. Total cholesterol is a combined measure of your HDL (or “good”) cholesterol, your LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides, a distinct group of fats found in your blood that can also raise your risk of heart disease. Most people should have a total cholesterol level of less than 200 mg/dL. If your total cholesterol is between 200 and 239, it’s considered mildly high and requires watching. If your total cholesterol is 240 or higher, talk with your doctor about how you can lower it.
Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. Generally, a healthy triglyceride level is below 150 mg/dL. Triglyceride levels between 200 and 499 mg/dL are high, and anything above 500 is very high. Having high triglyceride levels increases your risk for metabolic syndrome, which can lead to heart disease and other health problems, including diabetes.