In order to bring you the best possible user experience, this site uses Javascript. If you are seeing this message, it is likely that the Javascript option in your browser is disabled. For optimal viewing of this site, please ensure that Javascript is enabled for your browser.
Medical Services Patients & Visitors Health Library For Medical Professionals Quality About Us
Text Size:  -   +  |  Print Page  |  Email Page

Understanding Cholesterol



What is cholesterol and why is it a factor in heart disease?
Cholesterol is a fat-like nutrient used by the body to help make hormones and build cell walls.  The body makes all the cholesterol it needs to function properly.

Cholesterol is also found in many of the foods we eat, such as meat and dairy products.  When there is too much cholesterol in the blood stream, it can become trapped in the walls of the arteries that lead to the heart (coronary arteries) and build up over time.  This build-up is called plaque.

When plaque clogs the coronary arteries, not enough blood flows to the heart.  The heart muscle does not get the nutrients and oxygen it needs and part of if may die. The result is chest pain (angina), a heart attack or sudden death.

How much cholesterol is safe to have in the blood?
Most experts recommend a total cholesterol level of less than 200 or below as desirable.  Borderline high risk for heart disease is noted as levels between 200 mg. and 239 mg.  Individuals with levels of 240 mg./dl. or higher are considered at high risk.

Is there "good" and "bad" cholesterol?
Yes.  These are cholesterol carriers, called lipoproteins, that transport cholesterol through the blood.  The "good" type of lipoprotein is called HDL (high-density lipoprotein).  HDL transports cholesterol away from the coronary arteries.  So, the higher your HDL level, the more protection you have against heart disease.  The average man has an HDL cholesterol of 40-50 mg./dl; the average woman, 50-60.  The American Heart Association recommends that your HDL level be at least 40 mg./dl. or higher.

LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is the "bad" type that is associated with heart disease.   LDL sticks to the walls of the coronary arteries and forms plaque which can clog these arteries and lead to a heart attack.  So, the higher your LDL level, the greater your risk of developing heart disease.

LDL Cholesterol Level

Category

Less than 100 mg/dl

Optimal

100 to 129 mg/dl

Near or above optimal

130 to 159 mg/dl

Borderline High

160 to 189 mg/dl

High

190 mg/dl and above

Very High


How can blood cholesterol be controlled?
You can control your blood cholesterol level by reducing the total amount of fat in your diet, as well as the amount of saturated fat in your diet.  If you are overweight, losing weight will usually improve your blood cholesterol level.  Blood cholesterol reductions can generally be achieved with simple dietary changes.  The American Heart Association recommends that for good health, less than 30 percent of our daily calories should come from fat.  Of this 30 percent, 10 percent or less should come from saturated sources while another 20 percent should be provided by monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources.  Recent studies show that the American diet contains more fat calories than considered heart healthy.

The table below provides a daily "fat budget" showing how many grams of fat you can eat each day if you want to reduce your fat intake to 20 percent, 25 percent or 30 percent of total calories.

Caloric Intake

20% Fat

25%Fat

30% Fat

1200

27

33

40

1300

29

36

43

1400

31

39

46

1500

33

42

50

1600

36

44

53

1700

38

47

56

1800

40

50

60

1900

42

53

63

2000

44

56

66

2100

47

58

70

2200

49

61

73

2300

51

64

76

2400

53

67

80

2500

56

72

83

2600

58

75

86