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Cholesterol Levels - What You Need to Know



What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a wax-like substance found in our body cells. 80% of the cholesterol is made by the liver, with only 20% coming from the food you consume. Most people relate cholesterol with diseases and health conditions, whereas in reality, its effects are not always negative. 

While excessive cholesterol can clog your arteries and cause a heart attack, it also has its uses. Surprising as it may sound, cholesterol causes the production of hormones like oestrogen, testosterone, vitamin D, and bile acids. Furthermore, it acts as a vital building block in the cell membranes. 

Due to being fat and waxy, cholesterol can’t move through the bloodstream on its own. Instead, tiny protein molecules called lipoproteins help transport cholesterol in the body. 

The lipids travelling through the bloodstream come in various forms like chylomicrons, VLDL, IDL, LDL, and HDL. Out of them, LDL or Low-Density Lipoprotein is the one that attracts maximum attention. Mostly referred to as bad cholesterol, it is the primary reason behind plaquing and clogged arteries. On the other hand, HDL or High-Density Lipoprotein is known as good cholesterol because it eliminates the excessive LDL in the body by carrying it to the liver. 

How to Determine the Cholesterol Levels in Your Body?

Lipid profile or lipid panel is a cholesterol test that measures cholesterol levels in your body. It is a blood test that determines the following: 

  • Total cholesterol - The total amount of cholesterol, including LDL and HDL
  • LDL - Also known as the bad cholesterol in your blood.
  • HDL - Known as the  good cholesterol in your blood.
  • Triglycerides - A type of non-cholesterol fat found in the body. 
  • Non-HDL - Total cholesterol minus HDL 

The levels are measured in mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) and presented in a numeric form.

Markers for Different Levels of Cholesterol - Normal, Borderline, and Very high 

Cholesterol normal range for most adults

Total cholesterol Less than 200 mg/dL
LDLLess than 100 mg/dL
HDL40-60 mg/dL
TriglyceridesLess than 150 mg/dL
Non-HDL More than 130 mg/dL

The above table shows the normal range of cholesterol for normal healthy adults. Now, it is time to know about the borderline and high cholesterol range. 

Cholesterol Borderline Numbers for Most Adults

As the name suggests, it refers to marginally high Cholesterol levels. If you have a history of heart diseases or are at risk of developing one, your doctor will suggest and formulate a treatment plan.

Total cholesterol 200-239
Triglycerides 150-199

Cholesterol Very High Levels for Most Adults

Total cholesterol 240 or more
LDL190 or more 
Triglycerides 500 or more 

HDL results 

Below 45Not good
45-60 Normal 
60 and above Very good 

As per The National Cholesterol Education Programme (NCEP) Adult Treatment Panel III Reporting guidelines. 

Why Should You Worry About High cholesterol Levels?

High cholesterol in your blood indicates heightened risk of developing cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and heart failure. Excessively high cholesterol can plaque the walls of the arteries and block them. This, in turn, affects the blood and oxygen carried to your heart, thus increasing the risk of a stroke or heart attack. Besides these, high Cholesterol level can have the following impacts: 

  • Brain strokesAngina
  • Gallstones
  • Peripheral arterial disease
  • Numbness in joints and legs
  • Loss of memory 

What Are Symptoms of High Cholesterol?

Typically, high cholesterol symptoms are hard to detect as they do not create any noticeable symptoms to start with. It creates complications as the level increases.. For example, excessive cholesterol can induce heart attacks and strokes.

Typically, these events do not occur until excessive cholesterol causes the production of arterial plaque. Plaque can restrict arteries, decreasing blood flow. Plaque development alters the composition of the arterial lining. This might result in significant difficulties.

Only a blood test can determine whether your cholesterol is high. The normal levels are determined as per the National Cholesterol Education Programme (NCEP) Adult Treatment Panel III Reporting guidelines. High cholesterol  indicates a total cholesterol level in the blood that is greater than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). After the age of 20, it is advisable to get cholesterol tests done. Then, your cholesterol levels should be rechecked every four to six years. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, your doctor may also recommend more frequent cholesterol screenings.

When and How Often Should You Take a Cholesterol Test?

  • Doctors recommend testing cholesterol at the age of 10. 
  • Young adults who are 20 and above should undergo tests every five years.
  • Adults 45 and above should get the tests done every two years. 

Lipid profile tests and Cardiac Risk  Profiles are often recommended regularly to test the overall cholesterol and lipid levels.

Who is at High Risk of Cholesterol?

The following triggers can cause potentially high levels of cholesterol.

How is a Cholesterol Test done?

The tests are conducted in the mornings because you will need to fast for about 9 hours before the test. The physician or lab technician will leave detailed instructions the day before. 

The technician will take a blood sample by inserting a needle in the vein of your arms. The whole test takes only about a couple of minutes. 

What Distinguishes Healthy Cholesterol From Harmful Cholesterol?

The term for good cholesterol is high-density lipoprotein (HDL). It eliminates cholesterol from circulation. The ‘bad’ cholesterol is low-density lipoprotein (LDL).

If you have a high total cholesterol level due to a high LDL level, you may be at an increased risk for heart disease or stroke. However, if your total cholesterol level is elevated only due to a high HDL level, you are not likely at an increased risk.

Triglycerides are an additional form of blood fat. When you consume more calories than your body can utilize, the excess calories are converted into triglycerides.

Diet and activity changes can improve cholesterol readings, reduce LDL and triglycerides, and increase HDL.

Your optimal cholesterol level depends on your cardiovascular disease risk.

What are the normal ranges for cholesterol LDL?

Ideally, the total cholesterol level should be less than 200 mg/dL, depending on HDL and LDL levels.

LDL cholesterol levels - less than 130 is optimal, however, this varies based on heart disease risk.

HDL cholesterol levels of 60 or above minimize the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The optimal level of triglycerides is fewer than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

How to Manage Cholesterol?

  • Include more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains in your diet. 
  • Avoid foods with high-salt content 
  • Limit foods like cakes, butter, Ghee, biscuits, fatty red meat, etc, that contain saturated fats. 
  • Maintain a healthy weight. 
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.
  • Exercise regularly and be physically active. 
  • Avoid stress. 
  • Avoid smoking. 
  • Take the medications prescribed by your doctor. 
  • Have your cholesterol checked every year if you are in the high-risk group and every five years if you don’t have any risk factors. 

There are often no symptoms of high cholesterol, leading the medical community to term it a silent killer. A blood test is the only way to determine cholesterol levels in your body. So, even if you are healthy, it would be advisable to go through routine examinations. However, prevention is always better than cure. If you are a smoker, have blood pressure and uncontrolled diabetes, your risk of developing cholesterol is higher. To keep cholesterol at bay, start practising a healthy lifestyle. Diet is one of the best ways to keep your cholesterol under check. Hence, watch what you eat on a regular basis. Most importantly, curb your alcohol intake and work towards getting a healthy weight. A little cautiousness on your part can go a long way in giving you a better chance at a healthy and fruitful life.

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