The most significant factor in determining your risk of heart and cardiovascular disease is cholesterol. The liver synthesizes cholesterol into a product that can be found in most of the cells of the body. Deposits of plaque from this fatty substance can be found in the walls of the arteries and develop into “hardening of the arteries” or arteriosclerosis.
In order to know if you have normal cholesterol levels, you need to have a blood test or blood panel. Elevated cholesterol levels are also recognized in genetic diseases, liver and kidney disease, and hypothyroidism. High Density Lipoprotein (HDL), Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VLDL) are the three major kinds of cholesterol that need to be monitored. Total cholesterol and cholesterol/HDL ratio are also checked to make sure you are within normal cholesterol levels.
HDL, or good cholesterol, should range between 29 and 72, with an optimum range of 45 to 85. This form of cholesterol protects against heart disease and actually removes excess deposits from the arteries. Once collected, it transports it back to the liver to be excreted. Therefore, it is good to have high normal HDL levels.
Normal LDL, or bad cholesterol, ranges from 60 to 130. However, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute would ideally like to see the LDL count below 100, and lower in those who are at higher risk of heart disease. VLDL should also be kept as low as possible within the normal cholesterol levels. VLDL cholesterol range should be between 0 and 40, with an optimum of 0 to 30. Depending on your risk, your doctor will give you the guidelines, which are best suited for your body.
By adding up your HDL, LDL and VLDL cholesterol, you will get your total cholesterol count. Total cholesterol should always be below 200. For people with high cholesterol and consequently more at risk of heart disease, the optimal target is 160. Higher cholesterol plaque buildup corresponds to higher blood cholesterol levels.
Plaque buildup in the arteries that feed the heart can result in a heart attack, while arteries that feed the brain can result in a stroke. However, it is important to stay within the normal cholesterol levels because anxiety, depression, respiratory illness and stroke have been associated with low cholesterol levels below 160.
The cholesterol/HDL ratio is important to check because it measures the ratio between your dangerous and protective cholesterols. This ratio represents your overall risk for heart disease. Optimally, this ratio should be below 3.4.
Diet plays a critical role in maintaining normal cholesterol levels. While only 25% of your cholesterol is absorbed by your diet and your body manufactures 75% of, diet still plays a pivotal role in maintaining good blood chemistry and a healthy heart. Saturated fats and transfatty acids are major contributors to high total cholesterol and elevated LDL cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats help lower your total cholesterol, while monounsaturated fats not only lower total cholesterol but also increase your HDL cholesterol.