Patient Information

Cholesterol Problems

This information sheet was based on information from the Heart Center Online web site (

Cholesterol is a waxy fat that is present in all human beings. Two sources contribute to the amount of cholesterol in the human body. First, the liver manufactures about 80 percent of it. Second, people consume it by eating animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy products. Cholesterol is carried through the bloodstream by certain proteins (apolipoproteins). When these proteins wrap around cholesterol and other types of fats (lipids) to transport them through the bloodstream, the resulting “packages” are called lipoproteins. There are four different types of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol through the bloodstream:

High levels of LDL cholesterol have been associated with hardened arteries (atherosclerosis) and coronary artery disease. In contrast, high levels of HDL cholesterol have been shown to reduce some of the harmful effects of LDL cholesterol. The National Cholesterol Education Program classifies cholesterol levels as follows (all measurements are in milligrams per deciliter):

Lowering Your LDL
A high level of LDL “bad” cholesterol can be dangerous to your health because it puts you at greater risk of hardened arteries (atherosclerosis) and coronary artery disease. A blood test that shows an elevated level of LDL cholesterol (160 milligrams per deciliter), it is important to bring it down.

Healthy diet choices is the first line of defense against high LDL cholesterol. Fatty and processed foods can elevate LDL cholesterol, while certain other foods can reduce it. Knowing which foods to avoid and which to include will not only improve your cholesterol levels, but will improve your overall health as well. Exercise is also an excellent strategy for reducing levels of LDL cholesterol. 

If diet and exercise strategies are unsuccessful in reducing levels of LDL cholesterol, then a cholesterol-reducing drug may be prescribed. 

Raising Your HDL
Research has consistently shown that adequate HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels have a protective effect on people’s cardiovascular health. According to the landmark Framingham Heart Study, the risk of heart attack increases by about 25 percent for every 5 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of HDL below the recommended values.

HDL cholesterol has been shown to reverse some of the harmful effects of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Therefore, the more bad cholesterol you have, the more HDL cholesterol you will need. 

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute currently recommends HDL cholesterol levels of at least 40 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL) for men. The American College of Cardiology encourages women to keep their HDL cholesterol level at 45 mg/dL or more. Studies have shown that healthy HDL levels in the elderly can help preserve brain cell function and protect against mental decline, while low HDLs are linked with a higher risk of death from coronary artery disease and stroke.

Like cholesterol, triglycerides are common types of fats (lipids) that are essential for good health when present in normal amounts. They account for about 95 percent of the body’s fatty tissue. Triglycerides are both present in food and manufactured by the body.

Abnormally high triglyceride levels are associated with a number of diseases and conditions, such as cirrhosis (a disease of the liver), underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), poorly controlled diabetes, and pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).

High triglyceride levels are also associated with known risk factors for heart disease, such as low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, high levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol and obesity. Triglycerides may also contribute to a type of thickening of artery walls – a physical change believed to be a predictor of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Researchers are continuing to investigate exactly how triglycerides affect cardiovascular health. 

At the very least, high triglyceride levels are a warning sign that a patient’s heart health may be at risk. In response, physicians may be more likely to stress the importance of losing weight, getting enough exercise, quitting smoking, controlling diabetes and other strategies that patients can use to protect their own cardiovascular health. 

According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the most current classifications for triglyceride levels are as follows (in milligrams per deciliter [mg/dL]): 

Triglyceride Level Classification 
Less than 150 mg/dL Normal 
150 to 199 mg/dL Borderline high 
200 to 499 mg/dL High 
500 mg/dL and higher Very high

Reading More:  
Heart Center Online

The Heart Center Online has a pretty good instructional video about what cholesterol is and how it harms us.  It is available on their web site (a link is included here): Hyperlipidemia.jpg