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Cholesterol’s Role to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease

About 85.6 million Americans are living with cardiovascular disease or the after-effects of stroke. At the same time, it’s often possible to prevent and reverse heart disease. Knowing your cholesterol level – and doing something about it if it is too high – is one way to manage the risk of heart disease.

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of fat, or lipid, produced by the liver and found in certain foods. The body makes all it needs of this waxy substance to make vitamin D, hormones and substances that help with digestion. But because cholesterol is found in so many foods, some people can have too much cholesterol circulating in their blood. This could lead to serious problems such as heart disease.

Types of Cholesterol

The key to prevent and reverse heart disease is related to your amount of “bad” and “good” cholesterol. 

LDL, low-density lipoprotein, is the “bad” cholesterol that can accumulate in blood vessel walls, eventually clog arteries, and potentially develop blood clots and cause a heart attack. 

HDL, high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol, helps remove "bad" cholesterol from blood vessels and carries it back to the liver, where it is processed and eventually removed from the body. 

Triglycerides are another form of fat in the bloodstream and fat tissues that can contribute to the hardening and narrowing of the arteries.

A standard blood-cholesterol test checks for total cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglycerides. But what do all the numbers mean?

For total cholesterol:

  • results with less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) are considered normal
  • 201 to 239 mg/dL is borderline
  • more than than 240 mg/dL is high

For HDL, more is better:

  • 60 mg/dL is good because it protects against heart disease
  • 40 to 59 mg/dL is acceptable
  • less than 40 mg/dL is low and increases the risk for heart disease

For LDL, lower is better:

  • less than 100 mg/dL is optimal
  • 100 to 129 mg/dL is near-optimal
  • 130 to 159 mg/dL is borderline high
  • 160 to 189 mg/dL is high
  • 190 mg/dL or more is very high

For triglycerides:

  • normal levels are below 150 mg/dL
  • borderline is 150 to 199 mg/dL
  • over 200 mg/dL are considered high

Lifestyle Changes to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease

When it comes to heart disease, there are certain factors that you can and can’t control. 

Things that you can control have an effect on both your HDL and LDL cholesterol levels:

  • Diet. Eating a diet that’s low in saturated fats can help to lower your levels of LDL.
  • Exercise. Physical activity, even walking for 30 minutes a day, can help raise your HDL and lower your LDL levels.
  • Weight. Being overweight may also have an effect on achieving optimal levels of HDL and LDL.
  • Smoking. Smoking can damage your heart and blood vessel function, increasing your risk for atherosclerosis.

Things you can’t control:

  • Family history. High blood cholesterol may be genetically passed on through generations.
  • Age. As women and men age, LDL cholesterol often increases.

There are medications available that can help lower cholesterol levels. Talk to your doctor for more information about cholesterol, as well as your personal risks and options.

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