Cholesterol is something you hear about a lot because it’s a clear indicator of our cardiovascular health. This fatty lipid is in every body cell, helping produce hormones and form cell membranes. Despite the familiarity with cholesterol, most people aren’t aware that cholesterol is made up of various components. And those components are important for accurately gauging cardiovascular health.
All of the components together make up what’s known as total cholesterol. This is the number that people commonly receive when they have their cholesterol tested. While it’s good to know your total cholesterol, measuring the individual components gives you a more complete picture of your heart health and what you can do to improve it.
Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL)
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is what has given cholesterol a completely bad wrap that isn’t totally warranted. Cholesterol is naturally produced by the liver, but cholesterol also increases when we eat certain foods, particularly saturated fats. When cholesterol is elevated that’s when cardiovascular health suffers.
LDL brings cholesterol to cells. It’s also the component of cholesterol that can cause fatty buildup in arteries known as plaque. When plaque builds up it significantly increases your risk of having a heart attack. That is why you want LDL levels to be low.
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High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL)
High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are what you want to find in your cholesterol. HDL brings cholesterol from the cells back to the liver, which helps clear it out of the arteries. A higher level of HDL in the blood helps the cardiovascular system while a low amount of HDL is detrimental. Even if you’re within the recommended total cholesterol amount of 200 mg/dL you’re still at an increased risk of cardiovascular problems if the HDL count is low.
LDL is diet-based, but HDL is more about actions and behaviors. Physical activity, smoking, and obesity all have a negative impact on HDL. In addition to cardiovascular problems, low HDL is also associated with type 2 diabetes.
Generally speaking, women have higher levels of HDL than men do. It turns out estrogen increases HDL, and that’s why the average for women is higher. Doctors recommend that women’s HDL levels be 50-60 mg/dL or higher while men should ideally have HDL that’s 40-50 mg/dL or higher.
Add up all of these components and some other minor lipoproteins and you’ve got your total cholesterol. Once you’ve learned the calculation for total cholesterol you can move on to learning how to calculate your HDL cholesterol ratio to get an even better idea of your cardiovascular health.
Third Component to Consider: Triglyceride
You’ll also want to pay attention to something called triglycerides. These fats are also in the blood and delivered to cells by way of lipoproteins just like cholesterol. Triglycerides have a connection with cholesterol and cardiovascular health. In general, the higher your triglycerides are, the more health problems you’ll have. Researchers have found that usually when triglycerides are high HDL is low.
There you have it! Calculating total cholesterol isn’t overly complicated once you have measurements for the various components. Today you don’t even need to go into a doctor’s office to get your numbers. You can measure cholesterol components with an at-home test like our health tracking kit. You can choose to get an entire cholesterol profile that gives you a total cholesterol count and breaks down the various components so you can take the right steps to improve your health.
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