Cholesterol can feel like the black sheep of the family. You’re constantly warned away from foods high in cholesterol and encouraged to keep cholesterol levels down. But truthfully, there's an entirely other dimension to cholesterol that helps maintain a life of whole health.
Cholesterol works to build new cells, protect nerves and produce hormones. Like in other areas of health and diet, the trouble comes when there isn't a balance. Our livers generally make enough of the cholesterol that our bodies need. When we consume too much, it can deposit in unhealthy places, including arteries.
As cholesterol builds up in your arteries over time, it can restrict blood and oxygen flow to and from your heart. In the most serious case, reduced blood flow and oxygen to the heart can result in chest pain, and when blood flow gets completely cut off, a heart attack might result.
Here are some ways that monitoring your cholesterol can help you to be on top of your whole health, allowing you to adopt healthier lifestyle choices to keep healthy cholesterol levels and prevent future heart disease.
Monitoring Your Heart Disease Risk
A regular blood test that measures cholesterol level in the body can help your doctor monitor your risk of heart disease. Blood tests measure two different types of cholesterol:
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL): This “good” cholesterol can help carry LDL out of the arteries and may even lower your risk of heart disease.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): Known as the “bad” cholesterol, this type of cholesterol can build up in your arteries and increase your risk of heart attack.
Understanding Your Cholesterol Levels
Your doctor will discuss the results of your blood test, but LDL levels are categorized as follows:
- Less than 100 mg/dL – Optimal
- 100-129 mg/dL – Near optimal/above optimal
- 130-159 mg/dL – Borderline high
- 160-189 mg/dL – High
- 190 mg/dL – Very high
Together, you and your doctor will work together to create a plan that helps lower your bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol levels to improve heart health. That may include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Medication to help lower cholesterol
- Plant-based diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and lean protein sources and reduces saturated and trans fat
- Regular physical activity
A Whole Health Approach to Strengthening Your Heart
Regular check-ups with your primary care provider play an important role in monitoring, managing and controlling your whole health. By routinely tracking your cholesterol and other health indicators over time, you can intervene quickly and help get back to optimal health.