You can’t see it, but it can tell a lot about your health. It comes from the food you eat, your family history and can be greatly affected by your lifestyle choices. It’s cholesterol, and it can make a big difference in your health.
September is National Cholesterol Education Month and if you don’t know your cholesterol numbers, it’s a good time to find out. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found naturally in the body, and it helps in normal bodily functions. However, if you have too much cholesterol you are at higher risk of developing chronic illnesses, especially cardiovascular disease. If there is too much cholesterol in the blood, it can build up on artery walls, which become narrower and less flexible. This can lead to a host of health complications, including coronary artery disease.
By knowing your cholesterol numbers and understanding what those numbers mean, you can take steps to protect your health. Cholesterol is measured as a whole, or your “total” cholesterol. You should aim for a total cholesterol level of less than 200 . Total cholesterol is made up of:
Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as the “bad” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol to the body’s tissues, including arteries. Most of the cholesterol in blood is made up of LDL. The higher your LDL, the greater your risk of developing heart disease. Most people should aim for an LDL cholesterol level of 130 or less.
High density lipoprotein, or HDL, takes cholesterol from the tissues to the liver, which then removes it from the body. A low level of HDL cholesterol can increase your risk of developing heart disease. Men should aim for an HDL cholesterol of more than 40, while women should aim for 50 or higher. Regular physical activity is an excellent way to boost your HDL.
Triglycerides are a type of fat found in blood and in your food. High triglycerides are also a risk factor for heart disease. Aim for a triglycerides level of 150 or less.
There are many factors that can cause you to have high cholesterol – some you can change and also some you cannot change.
Things you cannot change:
Age and gender
Things you can change:
The good news is that cholesterol can often be lowered through simple lifestyle changes. Eating healthy, exercising and avoiding tobacco use are some of the most effective ways to be healthy, stay healthy and reduce your risk of developing illnesses like heart disease.
Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi’s Healthy You! wellness benefit covers annual cholesterol screenings beginning as early as age 3 for high-risk individuals. The lipid profile screening measures your total cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglycerides. For more information about cholesterol including ways to manage it, visit the American Heart Association’s website To learn more about our Healthy You! wellness benefit, visit the ‘be healthy’ section of our website.