Cholesterol, part 2 ~ LDL, HDL, and triglycerides
There are four numbers that doctors look at when they check your cholesterol. We looked at the total blood cholesterol in part 1. Today we’ll look at the other three numbers – LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. These numbers all measure how much cholesterol is in your bloodstream at the time of the blood test.
First the LDL and HDL.
- Cholesterol is carried through the bloodstream attached to two different compounds called lipoproteins: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL).
- You can think of LDL as the “lousy, loser” cholesterol. It carries cholesterol from the liver throughout the body, making it available and potentially allowing it to be deposited in artery walls. LDL also picks up other substances that can accumulate in the walls of arteries to form “plaque.” Over time, plaque builds up, and the arteries narrow and harden. The rough surface of plaque can also provide a site for blood to clot, sometimes completely blocking an artery.
- For people at risk for heart disease, an LDL level of under 100 mg/dl is the current government recommendation. In general, the lower this number is, the better off you are.*
You can think of HDL as the “happy, healthy” cholesterol. It picks up cholesterol from the blood and delivers it to cells that use it, or back to the liver to be recycled or eliminated from the body. It’s doing the hard work of keeping your body clean and healthy.
- According to new guidelines from the National Cholesterol Education Program, HDL levels of 60 mg/dl or above are classified as high and considered protective against heart disease, while levels below 40 mg/dl are classified as low and are associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease.*
- Both HDL and LDL levels are influenced by heredity, diet, weight, exercise, age, gender, alcohol consumption, and stress.
And now the triglycerides.
- Triglycerides are the chemical form in which fat moves through the bloodstream to your body’s tissues. They are neither good nor bad.
- Triglycerides are derived from fats in your diet and are also made in the body from other energy sources such as carbohydrates. When calories you consume are not used immediately, they are converted to triglycerides and stored in fat cells. Hormones then regulate their release to meet energy needs.
- Levels lower than 150 mg/dL are considered normal and levels above 200 mg/dL are considered too high.*
- High triglyceride levels can be genetic, but dietary influences are strong. Carbs are the main factor affecting triglyceride levels in the blood – but that doesn’t mean carbs should be avoided. Instead, eat high-fiber carbs like whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruits. Avoid the “white” foods and processed foods. Does this sound familiar? Check out Marilu’s Total Health Makeover!
- High triglyceride levels usually partner with low HDL cholesterol. They also come with an “apple” shape (more weight around the middle), a tendency toward high blood pressure, and a higher risk for type 2 diabetes.
Focusing only on cholesterol levels may hide other heart disease risk factors, such as lack of fitness, chronic stress, smoking, inflammation, poor diet, and diabetes. The best approach to heart health is to monitor and manage all of these risk factors. Join Marilu.com and get the program, the coaching, and the community to help you succeed in improving your total health!
*These numbers are generalizations, and what is “good” or “bad” for you may be different. Ask your health care provider to explain your numbers when you get your cholesterol test results.