High Cholesterol and Heart Health

Have you been told that your cholesterol is too high or that you have hyperlipidemia? That means you have high levels of fats, or lipids, in your blood. If so, you could be facing an increased risk for heart attack or stroke. This is especially true if you have other risk factors for heart disease.

The good news is you may be able to take steps to control your cholesterol and reduce your chances of getting heart disease.

Why is high cholesterol a problem?

Blood cholesterol is a fatty substance that travels through the bloodstream. When blood cholesterol is high, it forms plaque that can build up in the walls of arteries (blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the body).

This build up of plaque narrows the blood vessels and decreases blood flow. Over time, this can lead to coronary artery disease, heart attack or stroke.

What are HDL and LDL (good and bad cholesterol)?

At proper levels, lipids perform important functions in your body. You need lipoproteins (lipids inside a protein shell) to carry the lipids through the bloodstream. There are two main kinds of lipoproteins:

  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is known as “good cholesterol” and is mostly a protein shell. The shell collects excess cholesterol that is left behind on blood vessel walls. That’s why high levels of HDL cholesterol can decrease your risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein) carries cholesterol to body cells and leaves excess cholesterol behind that can build up in artery walls. This increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. That’s why LDL is known as “bad cholesterol.”

Controlling cholesterol levels

Total cholesterol includes LDL and HDL cholesterol, as well as other fats in the bloodstream. If your total cholesterol is high, follow the steps below to help lower your total cholesterol level.

Eat less unhealthy fat, more fish and whole grains. Cut back on saturated fats and trans (also called hydrogenated) fats. A diet that’s high in these fats increases your bad cholesterol. It’s not enough to just cut back on foods containing cholesterol.

Eat about 2 servings of fish per week. Most fish contain omega-3 fatty acids. These help lower blood cholesterol. Eat more whole grains and soluble fiber (such as oat bran). These lower overall cholesterol.

Be active. Walk, swim, bike or do some other exercise. Work up to 30 minutes a day, but remember some activity is better than none.

Quit smoking:
Quitting smoking can improve your lipid levels. It also lowers your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Take medication as directed. Many people need medication to get their LDL levels to a safe level. Medication to lower cholesterol levels is effective and safe. Your doctor can tell you whether you might benefit from a cholesterol-lowering medication.

Healthy cholesterol targets

For healthy cholesterol levels, what are good targets?

  • Total cholesterol: Under 200
  • HDL: 40 or higher for men, 50 or higher for women
  • LDL: Under 100
  • Triglycerides: Under 150

Ask your doctor for target numbers that are right for you.