Cholesterol Conundrum: Good vs. Bad and What It Means for Your Diet

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Cholesterol is described as a wax-like substance that is found in our bodies. Unlike other negative connotations about cholesterol, this substance is necessary for the production of hormones, cells, and vitamins. However, too much of it will cause major health problems such as hypertension, arteriosclerosis, and other heart diseases.

This substance is naturally produced by our liver and can also be acquired through the food that we eat like meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Though cholesterol may not be that bad for the body, cholesterol levels should still be monitored and controlled.

Types of Cholesterol Found In Your Body

Before we jump on how to monitor your cholesterol levels first let’s discuss the different types of cholesterol flowing through your bloodstream. These include:

  • HDL - This refers to high-density lipoprotein which is considered good cholesterol as it doesn’t build up in your veins and blocks the flow of blood. This works by removing excess cholesterol from your bloodstream and moving it back to the liver. The liver will then remove this cholesterol from the body.
  • LDL - Also called low-density lipoprotein, and unlike HDL, this cholesterol type is considered bad as it may lead to a build-up in your arteries which will block normal blood flow.
  • VLDL - Stands for very low-density lipoprotein. This is another form of bad cholesterol because like LDL, has the potential to block your arteries. This type of cholesterol also carries triglycerides, another form of fat that’s bad for the body.

What are the Levels?

Knowing your cholesterol levels helps you keep track of how your health is doing and how likely you are to get heart disease.

How To Monitor Cholesterol Levels?

You may go through a specific type of blood test called, a “lipid panel” or “lipid profile”. Your doctor will schedule your blood test a day or 2 earlier as it usually requires 12-hour fasting before being tested.

On the day of the test,  your doctor will get a blood sample from the vein in your arm and afterward, will run a series of tests in the laboratory. After the test, your doctor will show you the results in the:

  • HDL levels
  • LDL levels
  • VLDL levels
  • Triglyceride levels
  • Total Cholesterol and HDL ratio

What is The Normal Cholesterol Level?

In measuring cholesterol levels, doctors usually provide 4 measurements which are the total cholesterol level, LDL, HDL, and Triglycerides. Below is the categorization of normal, borderline high, and excessively high cholesterol levels in adults (20 and above).

For total cholesterol levels

  • Normal: Less than 200 mg/dl
  • Borderline high: 200 - 390 mg/dl
  • Excessively high: Above 240 mg/dl

For LDL levels

  • Normal: Less than 100 mg/dl
  • Borderline high: 100 - 159 mg/dl
  • Excessively high: Above 160 mg/dl

For HDL levels (In Women)

  • Normal: 60 mg/dl or higher
  • Borderline high: 50 - 59 mg/dl
  • Excessively high: Below 50 mg/dl

For HDL Levels (In Men)

  • Normal: 60 ml/dl or higher
  • Borderline high: 40 - 59 mg/dl
  • Excessively high: Below 40 mg/dl

For triglyceride levels

  • Normal:  150 mg/dl or lower
  • Borderline high: 150 - 199 mg/dl
  • Excessively high: 200 - 500 mg/dl

Note: Talk to your healthcare provider about your results so that s/he will give the right treatment and advice necessary to achieve normal cholesterol levels.

What Happens if You Have Too Much Cholesterol?

Too much cholesterol level may cause cholesterol build-up in your arteries which will negatively affect blood flow. In some cases, the arteries where cholesterol deposits are accumulated may completely block the blood flow and then eventually break causing blot clots. These blood clots may cause a heart attack or stroke. In some cases, high cholesterol can also trigger hypertension and other heart-related conditions.

Causes and Risk Factors of High Cholesterol

According to Mayo Clinic, some medical conditions may worsen high cholesterol such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Lupus
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Chronic kidney disease

Aside from medical conditions, there are other risk factors of high cholesterol such as:

  1. Age - Though high cholesterol can affect people of all ages, it is still more common in older adults usually at the age of 40 and above.
  2. Poor diet - This refers to eating foods with high amounts of unhealthy fats found in red meats, junk foods, and dairy products.
  3. Physical inactivity - Exercising helps burn excessive cholesterol from your body and boosts the function of HDL. However, physical inactivity or a sedentary lifestyle may increase your risk of high cholesterol and heart disease.
  4. Obesity - Also caused by poor diet, being obese may increase your risk of cholesterol build-up.
  5. Vices - This includes excessive alcohol drinking and smoking. Most alcoholic drinks contain high levels of unhealthy fats that may increase LDL in your body, while smoking will negatively affect normal levels of HDL in your body.
Tips to Control Cholesterol Levels

If you found out that you have high or excessively high total cholesterol levels, it’s time to make changes in your lifestyle. To help you with that, here are several healthy tips from Cleveland Clinic to keep your cholesterol levels at their normal state:

  • Keep yourself active - Regular exercise is one of the tested and proven ways to burn excess fats in your body, thus avoiding cholesterol build-up. Allotting at least 30 minutes to one hour of exercise every day can make a big difference in your physical and cardiovascular health.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol - Both smoking and drinking may increase your bad cholesterol and decrease your good cholesterol. Though quitting may not be easy, this is another crucial tip to avoid high cholesterol.
  • Establish a healthy diet - Unhealthy diet is one of the major causes of high cholesterol levels in both young and old people. That’s why it’s important to tweak some diet habits if you still haven’t. To do this, add more fruits and vegetables to your diet and reduce consumption of red meats, dairy products, and other high sources of trans fat and saturated fats.
  • Maintain normal weight - To know your ideal body weight, consult a BMI calculator or talk to your physician.
  • Learn proper stress management - Stress is one factor that encourages a person to eat excessively and unhealthily, thus increasing the risk of high cholesterol. That’s why it’s important to know proper stress management such as pep talks, unwinding, and self-care.

Aside from lifestyle changes, there are also drug therapies you might want to try in treating high cholesterol:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids - This aims to increase your HDL levels while decreasing triglyceride, which is one of the culprits of cholesterol build-up.
  • Statins - These types of drugs inhibit the liver’s production of cholesterol, particularly LDL.
  • Niacin - Just like Omega-3 fatty acids, this treatment helps lower triglycerides and maintains high HDL levels in your body.
  • Cholesterol absorption inhibitors - Other than inhibiting the production of triglycerides, these drugs also lessen the amount of cholesterol absorbed by the body.
  • Bile acid requestants - This works similarly to cholesterol absorption inhibitors wherein it inhibits the absorption of cholesterol from the food that we eat.


Cholesterol is not an entirely bad substance in our body as long as we know how to keep its levels normal, because too much of it may cause serious health issues, particularly in cardiovascular health. To achieve healthy levels of cholesterol in your body, it’s crucial to follow the tips mentioned above.

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