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Understanding Cholesterol Numbers: A Guide for Seniors

When you hear about your cholesterol, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it heart health? Is it food you should be avoiding? Or do you wonder what those numbers really mean? This time around, we’re breaking down cholesterol numbers, how to read them and what your senior loved one can do to improve or maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a kind of waxy substance the liver produces. It can be found in different foods and is necessary for one’s body to make vitamins and other hormones. However, too much bad cholesterol in the blood can be damaging, since high cholesterol is one of the major controllable risk factors for coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Understanding cholesterol numbers can help you manage health risks and prevent further complications. Because cholesterol travels through your blood silently, it can also turn into plaque, which can go unnoticed for a long time. Normal cholesterol levels vary based on your age and sex.

Cholesterol Levels consist of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and triglycerides.

What is a Lipid Panel?

Through a blood test called a lipid panel, your medical provider receives the following figures:

  • Total Cholesterol is calculated via this formula: HDL + LDL + 20% triglycerides.

  • HDL Level: High-density lipoproteins (HDLs) are considered the “good cholesterol.” The liver helps rid the body of extra cholesterol your body doesn’t need from the bloodstream. This is a number in your panel that you want to be on the higher side.

  • LDL Level: Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) are considered the “bad cholesterol.” It contributes to the plaque that can build up in the arteries. This is the number you want to be low.

  • VLDL Level: Very low-density lipoproteins (VLDLs) carry a type of fat (triglycerides) in the blood. Too many VLDLs can result in extra fat building up in the arteries.

  • Triglycerides: A type of fat from food we eat. High triglyceride levels within the bloodstream are associated with cardiovascular disease and pancreatic inflammation.

The unit of measurement healthcare providers use for cholesterol is milligrams per deciliter of blood, or mg/dL. Cholesterol can increase with age, and men are generally at higher risk than women for higher cholesterol. In general, the higher the total cholesterol, the higher the risk for heart disease.

For adults over the age of 20, total cholesterol figures are considered normal if it falls within the range of 125 to 200, non-HDL cholesterol is below 130, LDL cholesterol is below 100, and HDL cholesterol for males is 40 or higher, and females is 50 or higher.

Lowering Cholesterol

Improving cholesterol numbers could require making a few lifestyle changes including regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a well-balanced and heart-healthy diet. Other ways to manage cholesterol include:

  • Quitting Smoking – Vaping or smoking is known to lower HDL, or the “good” cholesterol. Smoking compounds the risk from other risk factors for heart disease like high blood pressure and diabetes. When your loved one quits smoking, their HDL cholestero increases and their LDL cholesterol (aka the “bad” cholesterol) decreases. Quitting smoking can also help protect their arteries.

  • Losing Weight – A weight loss of as little as 5% to 10% can help improve cholesterol numbers.

  • Adding Healthy Fats – Healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids (found in seeds like flax and chia) and fatty fish like salmon may improve cholesterol by increasing HDL levels.

  • Medication – Depending on other health factors and age, your older family member may need medication. Consult with their care team to find the right fit.

Why Presidio Home Care?

Whether it’s getting your loved one to follow-up appointments, cooking healthy meals, or keeping them motivated and energized through exercise, Presidio Home Care Aides are ready to help your family member lower their cholesterol and achieve optimal health. Contact us today to learn more.

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