Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance produced by the liver and circulates in the bloodstream. It is necessary for the production of hormones, bile, and vitamin D.
Although necessary for your health, too much cholesterol can have detrimental effects. High cholesterol levels in your bloodstream (known as hypercholesterolemia) can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
In particular, too-high amounts of a type of cholesterol called low-density lipoprotein (LDL) have been linked to negative health outcomes. Conversely, a higher concentration of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the better your health outcomes and the lower your risk of heart disease.
What Are Optimal Blood Cholesterol Levels?
Blood cholesterol levels are measured in millimoles per liter (mmol/L). The optimal levels vary depending on whether you’re looking at total blood cholesterol, LDL, or HDL concentrations.
The optimal blood cholesterol levels are as follows:
- Total cholesterol – 5 mmol/L or less
- HDL – 1 mmol/L or more
- LDL – 3 mmol/L or less
- Total cholesterol to HDL ratio – 6 or less
You will only know what your cholesterol levels and ratios are by getting your blood taken by your doctor. Even if you’re young and fit, it’s a good idea to regularly get your blood work done to ensure there are no underlying problems that you need to address.
What Are the Risk Factors For High Blood Cholesterol?
There are several risk factors that increase your risk of developing high blood cholesterol levels. Many of these risk factors are within your control, while some aren’t.
Here are some of the most common risk factors that increase your risk of hypercholesterolemia:
- Eating a poor diet that is high in saturated fats
- Being obese with a body mass index (BMI) of higher than 30
- Smoking tobacco
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
- Age (the older you are, the more likely it is that you will develop high blood cholesterol)
- Menopause (due to a lack of estrogen, which normally helps to regulate blood cholesterol levels)
- Medical conditions that disrupt your cholesterol levels, including diabetes, chronic kidney disease (CKD), and hypothyroidism
- Certain medications, such as antihypertensives (for high blood pressure), calcium channel blockers and beta blockers (for irregular heart rhythm), and chemotherapy medications (for cancer treatment)
- Genetics (if one of your parents has high blood cholesterol, you may be more likely to develop this health issue yourself)
You can learn more about cholesterol risk factors by checking out this article here.
Why Does Blood Cholesterol Matter?
When the concentration of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the blood is too high, it can cause fatty deposits called plaques to develop on the walls of the coronary arteries, as well as smaller arteries throughout the body. When fatty plaques build on the artery walls and cause them to narrow, it is known as atherosclerosis.
The coronary arteries are the major vessels stemming from the heart, and if they narrow, less blood can travel through them and supply the rest of the body. This can lead to an increase in blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack.