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Cholesterol - What You Should Know

You’ve probably heard of good cholesterol and bad cholesterol and understanding what each one means is important to your health. Brian Mahana, APRN with Washington Regional Cardiovascular Clinic, part of the Washington Regional Walker Heart Institute, explains what you need to know the next time you have your cholesterol checked.

“Cholesterol is something that everyone has in their bloodstream,” Mahana says. “It comes from the food that we eat, and it is also made in the body. It's primarily the main cause of coronary artery disease, and peripheral vascular disease.”

Your health care provider can order a blood test to check your cholesterol levels. “When you get a cholesterol check, it comes out with four different titles, basically: total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL and LDL,” Mahana says.

“For the HDL, or the good cholesterol, a normal or healthy HDL level is 50 or above.” Mahana says things that can increase your HDL are exercise, eating healthy fats, and avoiding saturated fats and trans fats.

“The LDL level is the bad cholesterol that is primarily responsible for causing coronary artery disease. The optimal levels for LDL, if you have no risk factors, is 100,” Mahana explains. “If you have known coronary artery disease, we like that level to be less than 70. And research has shown that if you can get your LDL to 30 or less, we've actually seen a regression in the plaque or cholesterol in the arteries, so that's a good number to get down to. But for those people who don't know what the numbers should be: anywhere between 100 and 130 for the bad cholesterol. Now, the good cholesterol: above 50.”

Your triglycerides level is another part of the cholesterol test panel. Mahana says a normal level of triglycerides is 150. Your total cholesterol is calculated using an equation factoring in your HDL, LDL and triglycerides.

However, there are some risk factors that can make cholesterol more of a problem for some people. “If you have diabetes or if you're a smoker, those are things that you can modify,” Mahana says. “Things that you can't change are genetics. If your mom or dad had heart disease, you might want to get checked your cholesterol more often.”

Mahana says exercise, avoiding refined grains like processed carbohydrate, and avoiding trans fats and saturated fats will help improve your cholesterol numbers.