Cholesterol 101

October 11, 2020

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Understanding your Cholesterol Panel

After the age of 20, most people in the United States will have a cholesterol screening once every 5 years. This cholesterol screening can be used as a tool to help predict the risk of development of plaque in blood vessels which lead to Heart Disease (or Cardiovascular Disease). After the simple blood test has been conducted at our physical, we get our results back from the lab, but what do they mean exactly?  

A cholesterol screening measures the total amount of cholesterol in our blood, and measures for the amount of two different cholesterols in our blood, and one type of fat in our blood. To learn more about the different measurements on a cholesterol screening, check out the information below:  

Total Cholesterol:

This is the total amount of cholesterol that is circulating in your blood throughout your body. This number is considered “optimal” if it is less than 200 mg/dL, “borderline high” if it is between 200 and 239 mg/dL, and considered “high” if it is 240 mg/dL or greater.  

Low-density Lipoprotein (LDL) Cholesterol:

This is the type of cholesterol that is referred to as “bad” cholesterol. Too much of this can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. Levels that are less than 100 mg/dL are considered “optimal”, levels between 130 and 159 mg/dL are considered “borderline high”, and levels between 160 and 189 mg/dL are considered “high”.  

High-density Lipoprotein (HDL) Cholesterol:

This is the type of cholesterol that is referred to as “good” cholesterol. HDL works to help your body “carry away” the excess LDL cholesterol. A measurement of 60 mg/dL or above is considered “good” as it is protective against Heart Disease. Any measurement that is below 40 mg/dL is considered “low” and is considered a risk factor for Heart Disease.  


When our body has a surplus of fats in our digestive system from our diet, our liver converts the excess fat into triglycerides which are then stored in fat cells. It is completely normal to have some extra fat in the diet, and can be good for our health. Triglycerides are measured because high levels can be an indicator of Diabetes. Additionally, there are some other factors that are associated with high triglyceride levels such as being overweight, drinking too much alcohol, and eating too many sweets. An “optimal” level of triglycerides is anything that is less than 150 mg/dL, “borderline high” is anything between 150 and 199 mg/dL, “high” is anything between 200 and 499 mg/dL.

Hopefully, this can help you have a better understanding of the results of your next cholesterol screening. It is also important to remember that any levels that are not considered “optimal” is not a be all and end all, these levels can be returned to “optimal” through proper nutrition habits, exercise, and even medication if necessary. By understanding and managing our cholesterol levels appropriately, we can have good heart health across the lifespan!


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