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A Senior’s Guide to Understanding Cholesterol Numbers

High cholesterol is a common health concern in the United States, but it’s particularly troublesome to seniors. The truth is that as you age, your risk for developing high cholesterol increases. Here’s a guide tailored specifically for seniors to help you gain a better understanding of your cholesterol health.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your bloodstream. This insoluble matter is produced primarily by the liver, but it is also produced by other cells in the body. Despite its bad reputation, cholesterol is actually vital for many of the metabolic processes that take place in your body.

Your body needs cholesterol for a variety of reasons including:

Making New Cells.
Cholesterol is needed to build the structure of cell membranes. This includes the coating for neurons, which are the cells in your nervous system.

Aiding in the production of bile.
Bile is important because it assists your body with digestion by helping you digest fat and absorb important nutrients. Complaints among older adults frequently pertain to digestive health. Cholesterol indirectly helps aid in digestion so that it’s easier for your body to break down and move food through your system.

Producing important hormones.
A few of the essential hormones cholesterol helps you create include estrogen, testosterone, and several stress hormones. These hormones are as important to seniors as they are to every other age group.

Producing vitamin D.
Vitamin D is critical for senior health because it helps prevent osteoporosis (another common condition associated with age).

Although cholesterol provides many benefits, it’s very important to know that not all cholesterol is created equal – so don’t go binge on eggs before you finish this article!

With that being said, the rules regarding cholesterol are similar to those that pertain to most things in life. You have likely heard phrases like “too much of anything is never a good thing,” and “quality over quantity.” Both these cliches embody the view you should take when conceptualizing your cholesterol health.

Understanding Your Cholesterol Score

Your total cholesterol score is composed of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and triglycerides.

Total Cholesterol
First, let’s look at your total cholesterol. Jimmy Moore, author of Cholesterol Clarity, has a great answer to the question “What does total cholesterol mean?” He clarifies that despite the often confusing equation, total cholesterol is not the factor you should be concerned with. Knowing the total cholesterol is like asking how a baseball game went and having someone respond with only the total number of points that were scored. Obviously, you need a breakdown of how many points were scored by each team to really understand how the game went.

In this example, the two teams would be comparable to HDL and LDL. You need to understand how much comes from each source to gain a real understanding of what is going on in terms of your cholesterol health.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
LDL is the type of cholesterol you DO NOT want. LDL can build up in the walls of your arteries, resulting in plaque. Similar to how you don’t want plaque to build-up on your teeth, this same rule applies when it comes to plaque in your arteries.

Quick Tip: Remember the “L” in LDL as “low.” You want to keep this kind of cholesterol low.

LDL Guidelines in the U.S.

Less than 70mg/dL is best for those with a very high risk for heart disease.

Less than 100 mg/dL is best for those with heart disease.

100 – 129 mg/dL is near ideal.

130 – 159 mg/dL is borderline high.

160 – 189 mg/dL is considered high.

190 mg/dL and higher is considered to be very high.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL)

HDL is the preferred type of cholesterol. HDL helps you remove the bad cholesterol from your bloodstream.

Quick Tip: Remember the “H” in HDL as “high.” You want to keep this kind of cholesterol high. Another great way to recall that HLD is the good protein is to think of the “H” in HDL as “healthy.”

HDL Guidelines in the U.S.

Less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50mg/dL is considered poor.

40 – 49 mg/dL for men and 50 – 59 mg/dL for women is better.

60 mg/dL and higher is best.

Triglycerides
Triglycerides are the third component in your total cholesterol score. Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in your body. They can be synthesized in your body and come from the food you eat.

Triglyceride Guidelines in the U.S.

Less than mg/dL is desirable.

150 – 199 mg/dL is borderline high.

200 – 499 mg/dL is high.

500 mg/dL and higher is considered very high.

High Cholesterol

High cholesterol refers to a high amount of LDL in your blood. Problems arise when LDL combines with fats among other substances to create a buildup of plaque in the walls of your arteries.

These problems become life threatening when the arteries become clogged with plaque. The narrowing of the arteries reduces blood flow, and this reduction can result in a blood clot. Blood clots occur when the buildup of plaque breaks loose or ruptures. This can lead to a heart attack (when a blood clot blocks the flow to your heart) or a stroke (when the flow to your brain is blocked).

Risk Factors

There are several factors that can contribute to high cholesterol.

Genetic Factors. Your genetic background can give you a likelihood of developing in high cholesterol. Your risk of high cholesterol increases if one or both of your parents have high cholesterol.

Age. The likeliness of developing high cholesterol increase as you age.

Gender. Women are more likely to have high cholesterol than men.

While these factors are completely out of your control, there are more factors that you DO have 100% control over.

Lifestyle. Your lifestyle plays a significant role in your risk for developing high cholesterol. Being overweight, inactive, and smoking greatly increase your odds.

Diet. A diet high in saturated and trans fat could greatly increase your risk for high cholesterol.

Quick Tips for Lowering Your LDL

If you have high cholesterol, don’t lose hope. Here is a list of simple changes you can make in your life to help lower your LDL. (Please consult with your doctor before attempting any of the following).

  • Limit the amount of saturated fat you consume and avoid trans fat completely
  • If you smoke, quit smoking
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • If you are overweight or obese, develop a plan to lose weight and maintain a healthy BMI
  • Exercise more

Hopefully, this guide has given you a better understanding of your cholesterol health. Feel free to pass it along to someone who might be experiencing difficulty understanding their cholesterol numbers.

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“The Senior Guide to Understanding Cholesterol Numbers,” by Ashley LeVine, Amada Blog Contributor.

 

Sources:
American Heart Association
Better Health

 

 

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