Understanding Your Cholesterol Numbers

It’s important to make sense of your cholesterol numbers. Cholesterol is an essential substance; your body needs it to build healthy cells and make certain hormones and vitamin D. Too much cholesterol, however, harms your heart health.

When excess cholesterol circulates in your bloodstream, it accumulates as plaque, leaving less room for blood flow. The result is an elevated risk of heart attack and stroke.

Heart disease, a chronic condition, is the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States. Keeping your cholesterol within a healthy range is one of several ways to lower your chances of developing heart disease, but first you need to understand what your numbers mean.

HDL and LDL: What do they mean?

Cholesterol is made up of different types of fats and fat-like substances. This is known as your lipid profile. 

If your cholesterol is higher than normal, it’s important to know your cholesterol profile. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are two key types of cholesterol that circulate in your blood. 


HDL is a beneficial type of cholesterol. It moves harmful types of cholesterol out of the bloodstream and carries it to the liver for elimination. This helps to prevent cholesterol from accumulating in blood vessels.

Having high levels of HDL has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and reduces the risk of heart disease. Aerobic exercise boosts HDL, as does making some good food choices. Including avocados, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and olive oil in your diet can boost HDL levels.

You want higher levels of HDL to reap heart health benefits. We recommend that you maintain an HDL of 60 mg/dl or above


Of the different types of cholesterol, LDL is most strongly linked with an increased cardiovascular risk. LDL carries cholesterol to your arteries and organs. 

In excessive levels, the substance accumulates on the walls of your arteries, and it can block blood flow. It contributes to atherosclerosis, a condition where arteries become stiff and narrow. This, of course, puts you at risk for a heart attack or stroke.

The foods you eat influence the amount of LDL circulating in your blood. Saturated fat is the most important dietary component that influences your LDL levels. Eating foods high in saturated fat has a potent effect at raising the LDL in your blood. Normal LDL levels are below 100 mg/dl

Other aspects of your lipid profile

Triglycerides are a type of fat used to store energy. When you eat excess calories, your body stores them in the form of triglycerides. Regularly overeating leads to elevated triglyceride levels. 

As with other types of fat, too many triglycerides boost your heart disease risk. The goal is to aim to keep your triglyceride level below 150.

Your provider may also check your level of very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL). This type of cholesterol moves different types of fat, including triglycerides and cholesterol around the body. 

If your triglycerides are high, your provider may take a look at another type of cholesterol called apolipoprotein B. Also called apo B, it is a component of many lipoproteins that contributes to atherosclerosis. Checking this type of cholesterol can further assess your heart disease risk.

Your total cholesterol measures the total amount of cholesterol in your blood. A desirable cholesterol is below 200 mg/dl. 

Don’t let high cholesterol sneak up on you. Unhealthy cholesterol causes no symptoms. The only way to know if you have healthy cholesterol is to have your levels checked. A simple blood test can provide the necessary insight. 

Call our office to schedule a visit for a comprehensive heart health evaluation with cardiovascular physician Dr. Ayim Djamson. We have three locations in Beltsville, Bowie, and Columbia, Maryland. You can also send a message to Dr. Djamson and his team via our website. 

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