Your blood cholesterol level has a lot to do with your chances of getting heart disease. High blood cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. A risk factor is a condition that increases your chance of getting a disease. In fact, the higher your blood cholesterol level, the greater your risk for developing heart disease or having a heart attack. Heart disease is the number one killer of women and men in the United States. Each year, more than a million Americans have heart attacks, and about a half-million people die from heart disease.
Why you should measure your cholesterol
While cholesterol is essential for your health, if it gets too high it might increase your risk of heart disease — putting you at risk of things like a heart attack or stroke.
There are a number of things that can raise your cholesterol to an unhealthy level:
- eating foods high in cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats can increase your levels
- lack of exercise
- drinking too much alcohol
- a genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia
There aren’t any signs of high cholesterol until something goes wrong, like a heart attack. So measuring your cholesterol levels regularly is recommended.
Regular cholesterol tests are particularly important if you:
- are overweight or obese
- have a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease
- have high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, or diabetes
- are on medication for high cholesterol and need to track your levels
Causes Of High Cholesterol
Cholesterol is carried through your blood, attached to proteins. This combination of proteins and cholesterol is called a lipoprotein. There are different types of cholesterol, based on what the lipoprotein carries. They are:
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, transports cholesterol particles throughout your body. LDL cholesterol builds up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL). HDL, the “good” cholesterol, picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver.
A lipid profile also typically measures triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood. Having a high triglyceride level also can increase your risk of heart disease.
Factors you can control — such as inactivity, obesity, and an unhealthy diet — contribute to harmful cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Factors beyond your control might play a role, too. For example, your genetic makeup might make it more difficult for your body to remove LDL cholesterol from your blood or break it down in the liver.
Medical conditions that can cause unhealthy cholesterol levels to include:
- Chronic kidney disease
Cholesterol levels can also be worsened by some types of medications you may be taking for other health problems, such as:
- Organ transplants
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heart rhythms
Cholesterol test results explained
Your cholesterol results will provide you with a range of figures. It’s important to look at each one and not just your total cholesterol. In the UK, cholesterol and triglyceride levels are measured in millimoles per liter (mmol/L) of blood.
The ideal ranges are:
- LDL cholesterol — ideally this should be below 3 mmol/L
- HDL cholesterol — ideally this should be above 0.9 mmol/L
- triglycerides — ideally this should be below 1.7 mmol/L
- total cholesterol (HDL + LDL + triglycerides) — ideally this should be below 5 mmol/L
- cholesterol ratio (total cholesterol/HDL) — ideally this should be below 4 mmol/L
The reference ranges for LDL particle size is (when your results are in mmol/L) are:
- less than 0.87 is ideal
- above 1.74 is high risk
- above 2.62 is very high risk
What Can Happen If Your Cholesterol Isn’t Managed
High cholesterol can cause a dangerous accumulation of cholesterol and other deposits on the walls of your arteries (atherosclerosis). These deposits (plaques) can reduce blood flow through your arteries, which can cause complications, such as:
Chest pain. If the arteries that supply your heart with blood (coronary arteries) are affected, you might have chest pain (angina) and other symptoms of coronary artery disease.
Heart attack. If plaques tear or rupture, a blood clot can form at the plaque-rupture site — blocking the flow of blood or breaking free and plugging an artery downstream. If blood flow to part of your heart stops, you’ll have a heart attack.
Stroke. Similar to a heart attack, a stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks blood flow to part of your brain.
Managing your cholesterol
There are many things that you can do to lower your cholesterol. A healthy lifestyle is very effective at lowering or maintaining your cholesterol levels, as well as being good for your overall health. Sometimes you might need to combine lifestyle changes with medication.
Natural ways to lower cholesterol
There are lots of things you can do to lower your cholesterol naturally:
- eat high-fibre foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- eat lean sources of protein, like chicken, fish, and legumes
- eat oily fish, like salmon and mackerel
- avoid foods high in cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats
- avoid fast food and fried foods
- exercise regularly — this can help raise your HDL “good” cholesterol
- lose weight if you’re overweight
- avoid drinking too much alcohol
- don’t smoke
In some cases, your doctor might prescribe you medication to try to lower your cholesterol level. The most commonly prescribed medications are statins — these block your liver from producing cholesterol. Other medications can reduce the amount of cholesterol you absorb from foods.
Because medications can have side effects, it’s usually preferable to try to follow a healthy lifestyle first to lower your cholesterol. Your doctor will advise you on what’s the best treatment for you.
If medication is required then it’s still important not to just rely on them solely for reducing your cholesterol levels, continue with the lifestyle changes recommended to further reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Test Your Cholesterol At-Home Using Lab Me
Lab Me offers multiple tests for cholesterol. The simplest being the at-home crucial test. It also contains a test for your liver (GGT). The baseline test by Lab Me offers everything the crucial does plus additional biomarkers for inflammation and more. This test is an excellent overview of the cardiovascular system.
For the most comprehensive test Lab Me offers with cholesterol – look at the executive test. Which tests vitamin D, hsCRP, A1C, and many more.