Section: Barnabas Health Heart Center News

Cholesterol: Understanding the Highs and Lows

09/26/2014

We hear a lot about cholesterol and the importance of knowing our "numbers," but do we really know what cholesterol is and how it affects our bodies? The Barnabas Health Heart Centers encourage individuals to take time to understand cholesterol and talk to their physician about appropriate screenings and cholesterol management.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance that can be found in all parts of your body. It aids in the production of cell membranes, many hormones, and vitamin D. The cholesterol in your blood comes from two sources: the foods you eat and your liver. However, your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs.

What's the difference between LDL and HDL?

Cholesterol and other fats are transported in your blood stream in the form of spherical particles called lipoproteins. The two most commonly known lipoproteins are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL)

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, is a type of fat in the blood that contains the most cholesterol. It can contribute to the formation of plaque buildup in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, which is linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. You want your LDL to be low. To help lower it avoid foods high in saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, and excess calories; exercise; maintain a healthy weight; and stop smoking.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, helps to remove cholesterol from the blood, preventing the fatty buildup and formation of plaque. You want your HDL to be as high as possible. You can raise HDL by exercising for at least 30 minutes five times a week, kicking the cigarette habit, avoiding saturated fat intake and decreasing body weight.

What is a healthy blood cholesterol level?

High blood cholesterol is a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Lowering it through increased physical activity, weight loss, smoking cessation, and proper diet decreases that risk. Blood cholesterol, however, is very specific to each individual and, for that reason, a full lipid profile is an important part of your medical history and important information for your physician to have. In general, healthy cholesterol levels are as follows:

  • LDL—less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) is considered desirable
  • HDL—greater than 40 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl)
  • A total cholesterol level below 200 mg/dl is considered desirable

For a referral to a Barnabas Health primary care physician or cardiologist, call 1-888-724-7123 or visit barnabashealth.org/physician-directory.

For more information about cholesterol, visit the Barnabas Health online Health Library at healthlibrary.barnabashealth.org.

About Barnabas Health Heart Centers – Life is Better Heart Healthy

Barnabas Health's expansive network of cardiac services and facilities offers all the advantages of a single, multi-center program, with convenient access to consultation, testing, follow-up care and rehabilitation. Our award-winning Heart Centers are nationally recognized. We offer adult and pediatric cardiovascular programs throughout New Jersey. Our emergency department provides treatment and diagnosis of heart attack and other cardiac conditions. Barnabas Health's cardiac surgeons perform minimally invasive valve and bypass surgeries, and complex open-heart surgery. Our heart transplant program is the third largest in the nation.

Our Heart Centers act as a model for today's most progressive cardiac programs, bringing together an extensive team of experienced heart specialists with a full complement of clinical resources. Our patient-centered philosophy continues to guide our ambition to improve the heart health of New Jersey residents.

For more information and location details, visit barnabashealth.org/heartcenters.

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