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Cholesterol

Blood lipids (fats) as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease
Abnormal levels of lipids (fats) in the blood are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found among the lipids in the bloodstream and in all the body’s cells. It is important to the healthy functioning of our bodies.  It is needed to form cell membranes and hormones.

The human body makes cholesterol and we also consume it when we eat animals and animal derived food like milk and cheese.  We can also make cholesterol from foods that do not contain cholesterol such as coconut fat, palm oil and trans fats, often used in foods such as french fries, cakes and cookies.

Cholesterol is carried through our blood by particles called lipoproteins: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). High levels of LDL cholesterol lead to atherosclerosis increasing the risk of heart attack and ischemic stroke.  HDL cholesterol reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease as it carries cholesterol away from the blood stream.

Estrogen, a female hormone, raises HDL cholesterol levels, partially explaining the lower risk of cardiovascular disease seen in premenopausal women.

The other blood fat – triglyceride
Triglyceride is the most common type of fat in the body. Normal triglyceride levels vary by age and sex. But if you have heart disease or diabetes you are likely to have high levels.

High levels of triglyceride combined with high levels of LDL cholesterol speed up atherosclerosis increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke.

What are normal blood lipid levels?
Your lipid levels are dependent on your age, sex, genetic makeup, lifestyle choices, and will vary over time. Although a line between safe and dangerous levels is not easy to draw, there are recommendations that your physician will make.

European recommendations suggest the following targets:

Optimal total cholesterol: less than 5.0 mmol/l.
LDL cholesterol: 3.0 mmol/l or less.
HDL cholesterol: 1.2 mmol/l or more in women and 1.0 mmol/l in men.
Triglycerides: 1.7 mmol/l or less.



American recommendations suggest the following targets:

Optimal total cholesterol: 5.1 mmol/l.
LDL cholesterol: 2.6 mmol/l or less.
HDL cholesterol: more than 1.0 mmol/l.
Triglycerides: 1.7 mmol/l or less.