Making sure your cholesterol levels are normal is very important. That is because cholesterol can lead to blood clots that interfere with regular blood flow in your arteries and in the blood vessels of your brain.

But if you are diabetic, keeping an eye on your cholesterol levels is even more important because as you know, high levels of glucose in the blood damage the walls of the arteries, causing cholesterol to stick to them and to form plaque.

Why keeping an eye on your cholesterol levels is important?

Cholesterol is a yellowish, fatty, and sticky substance that we find in the blood. It is one of the causes that contribute to the formation of plaque inside the arteries; plaque narrows the blood vessels to the point where the blood cannot circulate freely or cannot circulate, period. This is what ultimately causes a heart attack or a stroke.

By making sure you have normal cholesterol levels, you put some distance between you and cardiovascular disease. So, let’s make a list of what cholesterol levels you should aim for. The levels shown in the tables below are based on the National Cholesterol Education Program.

Note: HDL cholesterol, the “good one”, is an exception to the rule in the sense that a low level of this type of cholesterol is not desirable. I’ll talk more in-depth about this type of cholesterol in future articles but for the time being, I just want to point out to you that HDL cholesterol is the one in charge of getting rid of the bad one, LDL. So, the higher your number is, the better.

Normal cholesterol levels

Type of cholesterol Normal Levels – mg/dl Near-Optimal Levels – mg/dl Low Level – mg/dl
Total Cholesterol Less than 200
LDL Cholesterol Less than 100 100 – 129
HDL Cholesterol 60 or higher 50 – 60 Less than 40 for men
Less than 50 for women

Borderline to High Cholesterol Levels

Type of Cholesterol Borderline Level – mg/dl  High Level – mg/dl Very High Level – mg/dl
Total Cholesterol 200 to 239 240 or higher
LDL Cholesterol 130 to 159 160 to 189 190 and above
HDL Cholesterol See my note above

The reason why you want your total cholesterol number to below is that most of it are made of LDL, the “bad” cholesterol. LDL can get oxidized and contribute to the buildup of plaque in the blood vessels.

The best predictor of cardiovascular disease

There is strong evidence suggesting that the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL, the good cholesterol, maybe one of the best marks to predict cardiovascular disease. Many experts, including those at the famous Framingham Cardiovascular Institute of Massachusetts, advise patients to focus on their levels of LDL, the “bad guy” and their ratios of total cholesterol to HDL.

Example: If your total cholesterol is 210 and your HDL is 35, your ratio is 6 (210/35). This is a high risk since the Institute recommends aiming for a total cholesterol/HDL ratio of 4 to 1. Most experts agree that 3.5 to 1 or lower is even better.

Doctors participating in the Physicians’ Health Study-an ongoing study of more than 22,000 American doctors conducted at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston- found that cutting just one unit from their ratios, lowered their heart attack risk by 53 percent. You can lower your ratio either by decreasing the total cholesterol level or by increasing the HDL cholesterol.

What can you do with these tables?

If you don’t have a copy of your last cholesterol test at home, it may be a good idea for you to print these tables and take them to your doctor next time you are in the area. Ask him to let you compare them with your last test results.

If the test was done a while ago or the results are not similar to the ones in these tables, you may want to ask him/her to have another test done so you can compare the numbers. It will give you some peace of mind knowing that your cholesterol levels are normal or quasi-normal or that you need to take some action to reduce them. In either case, you win.

Final words

Although cholesterol is not the only risk factor that can get your heart and your brain into trouble -smoking, high blood pressure, the fats you eat, lack exercise, and high homocysteine- are also major contributors to cardiovascular accidents, high levels of cholesterol in your blood can have serious consequences. Keep an eye on them and if they are high take the necessary steps to get them back to normal.

Author

I am Andy Carpenter and I would start by saying that I have a Bachelor Degree in Nutrition Science conferred by California State University, Los Angeles and that I am certified as a Registered Dietitian.

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