Understanding Cholesterol and Good Cholesterol Levels

Discussion of good cholesterol levels have been all the rage in doctor’s offices across the country since 1948. That's the year that high cholesterol levels in the blood were correlated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease by the Framingham Massachusetts Studies. The fact is, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels seems to be an important component of maintaining good cardiovascular health.

As recently as August 7, 2011, a study published in Atherosclerosis, confirmed this association. Using imaging, SS Virani, et al showed that clogged and hardened arteries were associated with higher levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and non-HDL cholesterol, but not HDL cholesterol. In addition, the ratio of so-called “good” HDL cholesterol to total cholesterol was correlated with lipid build-up.

So what are "good cholesterol levels," and how do we make sense of lipid profiles?

Since there are no symptoms of high cholesterol until heart disease appears, it is important to have a lipid profile performed, and evaluated by a health care practitioner.

Good Cholesterol Levels have most recently been defined in 2004 by the National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III, and the Centers for Disease Control:

  • Those at highest risk for heart disease should have LDL cholesterol levels at least below 100mg/dL, but preferably below 70 mg/dL.
  • Those with intermediate heart disease risk should aim for LDL cholesterol levels below 130 mg/dL
  • Those with low risk for heart disease should aim for LDL cholesterol levels below 160 mg/dL

And the CDC adds that everyone should:

  • Have HDL cholesterol levels at least above 40mg/dL, and preferably above 50mg/dL
  • Have Triglyceride levels below 150mg/dL
  • Have total cholesterol (HDL + LDL) levels less than 200 mg/dL, with levels over 240 mg/dL considered high.
People increase their risk for cardiovascular disease when:
  • There is a genetic predisposition – at least one immediate family member experienced cardiovascular disease,
  • They have personally experienced a cardiovascular event,
  • They have a history of smoking,
  • They have Type II Diabetes,
  • They have metabolic syndrome,
  • They have high blood pressure,
  • They are overweight,
  • and/or they are over the age of 65.

If your physician has not already assessed your risk for heart disease, you can head over to this site.


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So what is cholesterol, and why is it so dangerous?

Cholesterol is not as simple as it may seem. This is not just a substance that we eat too much of, and it builds up in our arteries because it has nowhere else to go.

On the contrary. With the exception of the brain, nearly every cell in the body can manufacture cholesterol. The liver manufactures it a lot. And biochemically speaking, consuming large quantities of carbohydrates will drive the liver to make more cholesterol.

Let me state that another way: biochemistry dictates that low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets are NOT a good idea for achieving good cholesterol levels.

Here’s where it gets simple again: The body needs cholesterol, so the body produces cholesterol. No, the body does not want to clog up the cardiovascular system, nor is it suffering from a Lipitor deficiency. Cholesterol is vitally important in the body: it is a necessary component of hormones and bile acids, among many other important things. Even "bad" LDL cholesterol serves important purposes in the body.

Cholesterol seems to get deposited in the arteries only when circulating cholesterol is oxidized. The immune system recognizes oxidized cholesterol as problematic, and sends out the troops. As result of this immune response, there is carnage from the battle, and all that debris accumulates in blood vessel walls.

In fact, HDL is seen as a “good” guy these days because of its calming effects on the immune system, and ability to reduce inflammation.

Triglycerides, for those of you are wondering, are the products of fat digestion. They surge into the bloodstream following a meal. Too many triglycerides in the bloodstream after fasting indicates that, well, there are too many. The best way to address this is through reduced fat, especially trans- or saturated fat, consumption.

So what can we do about it?

Natural approaches to lowering cholesterol focus on the following three biological tenants:

  • There are benefits to raising HDL cholesterol, which is believed to reduce inflammation and calm immune responses.
  • Lowering LDL cholesterol reduces the risks of many types of cardiovascular events (coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, etc).
  • Oxidation of cholesterol by free radicals is what makes cholesterol damaging to blood vessels, so managing oxidation and the number of free radicals in the body is beneficial.

To keep cholesterol in a healthy range and prevent cardiovascular disease caused by cholesterol, there are foods, and supplements that have been scientifically proven to increase "good" HDL, lower "bad" LDL, decrease triglycerides, and/or reduce oxidation.


Additional Articles About Cholesterol:

How to Lower Cholesterol Naturally

Foods to Lower Cholesterol

A Little Berry with Big Impacts on Cholesterol and Other Metabolic Disorders

A Food That Can Help Lower Cholesterol - Sharing the Latest Science

A Food To Lose Weight and Lower Cholesterol - Sharing the Latest Science




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