If the laboratory results of your most recent blood work revealed a total cholesterol level of 225 mg/dL, your doctor will probably tell you that 225 is higher than she prefers to see, even though a total cholesterol level of 225 is just 25 points over what doctors consider safe. Now is the time to intervene, because if you don't take them seriously, your cholesterol numbers will likely continue to rise. And in just a few years, your cardiovascular health will be at serious risk.
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Borderline High Risk
The American Heart Association considers a total cholesterol level of 225 mg/dL to be borderline high. This level places you in a category that is just above what the medical community considers low risk for cardiovascular complications like heart disease, heart attack and stroke. At 225, you are just 15 mg/dL away from being in the high-risk category of 240 mg/dL and above, which more than doubles your risk of cardiac complications during your lifetime.
The Numbers Breakdown
Your total cholesterol is one component of your lipid profile. Your doctor also uses three other numbers to determine your current risks. The ratio of LDL, or bad cholesterol, to HDL, or good cholesterol, is a good indication of how your cholesterol level is impacting your health. A safe LDL level for individuals with no additional risk factors is 100 to 129 mg/dL. If you have risk factors, such as a family history of heart disease, your doctor will want your LDL to be 70 to 100 mg/dL or lower. Conversely, because it plays a protective role against heart disease, the higher your HDL cholesterol, the better. For HDL, your doctor considers anything below 40 mg/dL for men and 50 for women to be poor. Fifty to 59 is better, and anything above 60 mg/dL is good. Finally, if your triglyceride level is 150 mg/dL or below, you are in good shape. A borderline triglyceride level is between 150 and 199, and a high levels falls in the range of 200 to 499 mg/dL. Levels of 500 mg/dL or more are very high.
It is easier to lower your cholesterol 25 points now than it will be to lower it 40, 50 or more points later, when high cholesterol usually requires medication intervention. You can make immediate lifestyle changes to lower your cholesterol. Exercising at least 30 minutes on most days helps raise good cholesterol and lower bad. Exercise also lowers triglycerides. If you are overweight, exercise helps with weight loss. Every pound you lose positively affects your cholesterol numbers. If you smoke, now is an ideal time to quit. This intervention alone raises good cholesterol, lowers blood pressure and adds years to your life.
Cholesterol and Your Diet
Everything you eat negatively or positively affects your serum cholesterol. Gradually change your diet to include more heart healthy high-fiber fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grain replacements for any refined processed foods you eat now. Cook with canola or olive oils rather than butter or shortening when possible. Trans fats in processed products raise bad cholesterol and lower good. If a product's food label indicates trans fat, it is best to leave it on the shelf. Limit dietary cholesterol by moderating your intake of animal products like red meat and egg yolks. Substitute 2 percent or skim milk for whole fat milk. Choose lean cuts of red meat, or better yet, substitute lower fat poultry or healthy fish several times a week. Fish like mackerel and salmon are rich in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which have the potential to lower cholesterol levels.
Additional Risk Factors
Your cholesterol level may not be your only risk factor for heart disease. Ask your doctor about other risk factors and how to manage them. High blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and/or a stressful lifestyle are just some of these risk factors. Because every risk factor increases your chances for future heart disease, control or elimination of even one of them is a step in the right direction.