When it comes to your cholesterol level, lower is better.
“The higher your risk, the lower your cholesterol target should be,” said Sigrid Nelson, MD, family medicine doctor at Allina Medical Clinic – Faribault. Diabetes, high blood pressure, history of heart disease, age, tobacco use and excess weight are risk factors for heart disease.
Your total cholesterol is the sum of your “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) and your “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL). The “bad” cholesterol is the one that can lead to buildup of plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries leading to the heart and brain. This buildup puts you at risk for stroke or heart attack.
Down with the bad
To simplify, focus on keeping your LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol levels low to keep your arteries and heart healthy. Minneapolis Heart Institute® doctors set 100 or lower as the optimal LDL level for most people. But if you’ve had a heart attack or have multiple risk factors, going even lower, to an LDL level lower than 70, is recommended.
Many people are able to reduce their cholesterol to healthier levels with a high-fiber, low-saturated-fat diet and exercise. “We often refer patients to a dietitian for expert advice on food choices, and there are many exercise opportunities in the area,” noted Nelson.
If lifestyle changes don’t reduce cholesterol enough, medicines may be prescribed, especially for people who need to lower their LDL level to 70 or less. Statins, the most commonly used medicines, block cholesterol-producing enzymes in the liver. “Side effects are rare and minor for almost everyone,” said Nelson. “It has been proven that lower LDL levels prevent heart attack and stroke, and many people cannot bring their levels low enough without medicine.”