I hosted a Twitter chat yesterday with AOL_Lifestyle on women’s heart health. It was challenging to respond to medical questions in 140 characters or less. I have a hard time telling a waiter what I want to eat in 140 characters or less. I loved being a part of an important conversation about women and heart disease. One question I received was, “What is the difference between Good and Bad Cholesterol?” It is a great question, and I’d like to answer it here without the tweeting confines.
Simply put, all cholesterol is bad. It cannot be dissolved in the blood and needs to be carried around by another substance. It is carried by lipoproteins, so named because they are made up of a protein and a fat. There are two types of lipoproteins. This is where the good and the bad come in. LDL or Low Density Lipoprotein carries the cholesterol in an unhealthy way, causing it to build up on the inside of arteries. You know this plaque build up as atherosclerois. It increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.
Your total cholesterol is HDL plus LDL plus 20% of your triglyceride level. (Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in your body.) Ideally, your total cholesterol should be below 180.
LDL should be below 130, but in patients with a high risk for heart disease, doctors aim to get it much lower.
HDL should be above 40, but higher is better. You can improve your HDL to LDL ratio with exercise, weight loss, smoking cessation and maintaining a healthy, low-fat diet including nuts, fish, whole grains and vegetables.
Adults over the age of 20 should have their cholesterol checked about every four years. If you are at high risk for heart disease or have a history of high cholesterol, your doctor will recommend more frequent testing. Remember, cholesterol is just one part of the fight against heart disease. For more on heart disease in women, check out this video.