Cholesterol is important for keeping your body functioning properly, but too much cholesterol, mainly low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) can be detrimental to your health.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy essential fat that supports membranes in the body’s cells. The liver creates cholesterol on its own, and the body also takes in some cholesterol from foods that are eaten. Lipoproteins are needed to transport cholesterol into cells, since it is unable to dissolve on its own in the blood. There are different forms of lipoproteins, and they each carry a different type of cholesterol through the bloodstream into the cell.
High density lipoproteins carry cholesterol and lipids to the liver and are typically considered to be the “good” cholesterol. Low density lipoproteins are less dense than other types of cholesterol particles. LDL-C is typically considered to be the “bad” type of cholesterol.
Why is Low Density Lipoprotein Considered to be Bad?
LDL tends to deposit cholesterol on the walls of the arteries. White blood cells try to digest low density lipoproteins, but this process changes them into toxins. More and more white blood cells are attracted to the area where the change is occurring, and the artery wall can become inflamed.
Over time, as this process continues, these deposits of plaque can build up on the walls of arteries, making the passageways very narrow and less flexible than they should be. The artery can become completely blocked if too much plaque builds up.
When LDL-C creates too much plaque on artery walls, blood cannot freely flow through arteries. Plaque can also suddenly collapse in the artery leading to a blood clot. This blood clot can then lead to a heart attack.
How to Know if LDL Levels are Too High
Fortunately, tests are available to indicate whether LDL is at a dangerous level. A person being tested must fast for a specific amount of time prior to the test. A sample of blood is taken, and the lipid panel, which includes different types of cholesterol, will be checked at a testing laboratory.
Testing of cholesterol levels is important, so you can better understand your risk of heart disease. If LDL-C levels are too high, your risk for cardiovascular disease is higher than for those individuals with optimal LDL levels. The following are the levels physicians use to determine whether or not you are in an at-risk category:
- Optimal: 100 mg/dL
- Near optimal: 100 – 129 mg/dL
- Borderline high: 130 – 159 mg/dL
- High: 160 – 189 mg/dL
- Very high: over 190 mg/dL
It is important to know that some physicians may use slightly different measurements for what is considered to be healthy. If you have cardiovascular disease, or a history of heart disease in your family, your doctor may recommend that your optimal levels for LDL-C be lower than 100 mg/dL.