What does your cholesterol level mean? In Australia, we have guidelines on what the acceptable ranges are. If you need to lower your cholesterol you may wonder where to start. Do you know what the numbers on your cholesterol test actually mean? Compare your lipid test with the ranges below, how do you fair?
Is your cholesterol level worrying you? Have you been told by your doctor that it should be lower? Maybe you’re not entirely sure how to do that! The doctor may have even suggested going on cholesterol-lowering medication. If you would like to take a look at what you can do to assist in lowering your cholesterol level I have provided a guide below.
To follow is an explanation of terms and ranges plus my top lifestyle tips.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance your body needs to build cell membranes, produce hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, and produce vitamin D. Most cholesterol is produced by the liver and intestine, and only 20% comes from the food we eat. Cholesterol is vital for our health.
When medical practitioners talk about the need to lower cholesterol, the main offender is the low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol. To improve overall cholesterol levels we can use strategies that lower LDL levels or increases HDL. During a lipid test, you will also notice Triglycerides are tested. Triglycerides are also another fat in the blood which needs to be lowered.
- Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are known as “bad” cholesterol. They are almost pure cholesterol. As it circulates in the blood, cholesterol is delivered to the tissue and is strongly associated with a build-up of plaque in the arteries. A build-up of plaque restricts the flow of blood to the heart.
- High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are known as “good” cholesterol because they remove cholesterol from circulation and from artery walls. It can then be returned to the liver for excretion. Having a higher level of HDL is associated with positive health outcomes. Until it becomes higher than the upper limit.
- Triglycerides are a type of lipid (fat) found in the blood. These are produced by the body when there is excess energy from food. The energy is converted into triglycerides and stored as fat in the cells. If energy intake is regularly more than required by the body, triglycerides will be high, particularly if the calories come from carbohydrates. High levels of triglycerides cause the blood to become more sticky and lead to hardening of the arteries.
What Does Your Cholesterol Level Mean – Australia
HDL Cholesterol Ranges
- The range should be between: 0.9 – 2.1 mmol/L.
- A level of 1.5 mmol/L is optimal.
It should be noted that levels higher than 2.1 mmol/L start to become detrimental to health. High levels of HDL are associated with the same outcomes as high LDL cholesterol levels.
- LDL cholesterol levels should be between: 1.7 -3.5 mmol/L – Ideally below 2 mmol/L
- A range from 3.6 – 4.5 mmol/L is borderline,
- Over 4.5 mmol/L is considered a high cholesterol level.
- The range should be between: 0.5 – 1.7 mmol/L.
- A range from 1.8 – 2.5 mmol/L is borderline,
- Over 2.5 mmol/L is considered a high level.
The term, total cholesterol refers to HDL + LDL + 20% of Triglycerides.
- The range should be between: 3.9 – 5.5 mmol/L.
- A range from 5.6 – 6.5 mmol/L is borderline,
- Over 6.5 mmol/L is considered a high total cholesterol level.
The Cholesterol ratio has been found to be a reliable indication. To calculate your cholesterol ratio, divide the total cholesterol level X the HDL cholesterol level. The higher the ratio is the higher the risk of heart disease. Between 3.5 -5 to 1 is considered normal. Above 5 to 1 is considered at risk.
The Victor Chang website has this chart as a PDf for easy reference.
Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Cholesterol Levels
Yes, there is another reason to quit smoking.
Are you ready to make some positive lifestyle changes to reduce your cholesterol levels? Let’s dive in and explore some key strategies that can help you on your journey to a healthier lifestyle!
First and foremost, it’s time to say goodbye to smoking. Quitting smoking not only improves your overall health but also plays a significant role in reducing cholesterol levels. By kicking this harmful habit, you’ll be taking a crucial step towards improving your heart health.
Research shows that smoking leads to reduced levels of HDL (good cholesterol). The study found that HDL starts to increase after 20 minutes post-cigarette and continues to increase. If you have just received the news that your cholesterol level is too high, even cutting down will have a positive effect on your HDL level and consequently your overall cholesterol ratio.
Maintain Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is another essential factor in managing cholesterol levels. Excess weight can contribute to higher triglyceride levels and consequently cholesterol levels, so it’s important to focus on achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight through balanced nutrition and regular exercise.
Speaking of exercise, incorporating regular physical activity into your routine is vital for reducing cholesterol. Engaging in activities such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling can help raise your HDL (good) cholesterol while lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Stress management is also key when it comes to maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Chronic stress can have negative effects on your heart health and contribute to elevated cholesterol levels. Find healthy ways to manage stress such as practicing mindfulness techniques, engaging in hobbies you enjoy, or seeking support from loved ones.
Don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep! Regular sleep patterns are essential for overall well-being and can positively impact your cholesterol levels. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to support optimal heart health. Sleep is essential for the body to undertake necessary rest and repair functions. A lack of sleep can create hormonal imbalances that challenge the liver which is responsible for detoxing cholesterol. Are you having trouble with sleep? Take a read of getting a good night’s sleep.
Lastly, let’s talk about the importance of adopting a healthy diet. Incorporating foods rich in soluble fiber like oats, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Did you know that soluble fibre binds to cholesterol and is eventually excreted from the body? If there is no soluble fibre the cholesterol is reabsorbed and will go back to the liver via the bloodstream.
Reducing saturated fats is a good practice, particularly those found in deli meats. Saturated fat is also found in red meat, for this reason, it should be limited to once per week. Equally, dairy contains saturated fat and should be limited in the diet. Choosing healthier fats like those found in avocados, salmon or olive oil can make a significant difference in cholesterol levels.
It is crucial to avoid trans fats. These unhealthy fats can raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease. By cutting out foods like fried snacks, commercially baked goods, packaged chips, and processed foods, you’ll be taking a significant step toward improving your cholesterol profile.
Next up, let’s talk about the Mediterranean diet. This eating plan is not only delicious but also incredibly heart-healthy. Swapping to a Mediterranean diet has been found to lower LDL cholesterol levels. The diet includes a large volume of fruit, vegetable, and wholegrains. Protein is from, lean sources such as fish and poultry, and healthy fats from olive oil and nuts.
Plant Stanol & Sterols
Another powerful tool in reducing your cholesterol level is incorporating plant sterols and stanols into your diet. If you are looking for a high concentration of these nutrients naturally, then you should eat a lot of cereals and rice bran. These naturally occurring compounds can help block the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines.
It is difficult to get the levels you need to lower cholesterols levels naturally. So you can also find plant stanols in foods like fortified cereal and milk or supplements specifically designed for lowering cholesterol.
By making these lifestyle changes – quitting smoking, avoiding trans fats, maintaining a healthy weight through proper nutrition and exercise, managing stress, prioritizing sleep, and adopting a heart-healthy diet by embracing the Mediterranean diet, and incorporating plant stanols – you’ll be well on your way to reducing your cholesterol levels and improving your overall health and well-being.
So why wait? Start making these positive changes today for a healthier tomorrow! If you need some help creating a Mediterranean meal plan, or tweaking your current eating to lower cholesterol, feel free to book an appointment.