What Do My Lipid Numbers Mean?

I just had my blood lipid panel taken. The results made me want to share some thoughts on this assessment. Let’s start with what cholesterol is and why we should care. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Cholesterol is a waxy substance that’s found in the fats (lipids) in your blood. While your body needs cholesterol to continue building healthy cells, having high cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease.” The standard guideline when having a lipid panel done, is to have your total cholesterol reading as less than 200 mg.dL, but, total cholesterol is just an overall quick look. So, if your’s is over 200, don’t panic yet. It’s more accurate to look at the three other major components of your lipid panel. These are LDL (low density lipoproteins), HDL (high density lipoproteins), and triglycerides. You can think of LDL as the “bad cholesterol”, leaving garbage (plaque) to build up in your arteries. HDL is the “good cholesterol”, cleaning up the mess left by LDL. Finally, there’s triglycerides, which is not cholesterol, but fat in the blood and another potentially “bad” component. High triglyceride levels are also associated with increased risk of heart disease.


Back to my test. My total cholesterol is 226 mg/dL, 26 points higher than you would typically like to see. However, let’s look at the component breakdown. My LDL is 110 mg/dL with a desired standard of less than 150 mg/dL. Great… I’m under. HDL should be above 40 mg/dL and mine falls in at… drum roll….. 105 mg/dL. (above 60 is actually considered an anti-risk factor). Top that off with my triglycerides coming in at 53 mg/dL with a desired standard of less than 150 mg/dL and you can see that my high total cholesterol becomes less important.

So, if your numbers are not what they should be, what non-medication steps can you take to improve them?

  1. Exercise.
  2. Get to a healthy body weight.
  3. Quit smoking.
  4. Avoid eating trans fats. (Check you food labels)
  5. Eat food that are high in Omega 3. (i.e. fish, olive oil, and nuts)
  6. Eat foods that are high in fiber. (i.e. whole grains, beans, fruits and veggies)
  7. Limit your added sugar intake.
  8. Drink alcohol in moderation.

While these are great steps to take for many health benefits, there are times when medication is necessary to manage your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Make sure you discuss your options with your doctor.


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