Cholesterol is a soft and waxy substance found in all cells of the human body. Two types of cholesterol course through our bloodstreams: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL cholesterol is known as the "bad" cholesterol, which causes plaque buildup in blood vessels. HDL cholesterol is known as the "good" cholesterol, which disposes of LDL cholesterol. In the U.S., high levels of LDL cholesterol effect over 50 million women. These women are especially susceptible to heart attacks, stroke and heart disease---the latter being the number one killer of American females.
Healthy Levels of Cholesterol in Women
The following offers a breakdown of cholesterol levels in women. Overall, females should aim for a cholesterol less than 200 mg/dL.
200 mg/dL and less: Desirable Women should aim to have a cholesterol level at 200 mg/dL or lower to decrease their chances of heart disease.
Between 200 and 239 mg/dL: Borderline-High Risk Women who have cholesterol levels between 200 and 239 mg/dL are at a higher risk to develop heart disease.
240 mg/dL and over: High Risk Women who have a cholesterol level over 240 mg/dL are twice as likely to develop heart disease than women with desirable cholesterol levels.
Healthy Levels of LDL Cholesterol
The following outlines the different levels of LDL cholesterol in women.
Less than 100 mg/dL: Optimal 100 to 129 mg/dL: Near optimal 130 to 159 mg/dL: Borderline high 160 to189 mg/dL: High 190 mg/dL and above: Very high
These guidelines are meant for people who do not have a family history of heart disease or diabetes. If you have family members who suffer from these ailments, speak with your doctor about what cholesterol levels you should strive for.
Healthy Levels of HDL Cholesterol
This chart outlines the different levels of HDL cholesterol in women. The American Heart Association and National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) recommend for women to have an HDL cholesterol level more than 50 mg/dL.
Less than 50 mg/dL: Higher risk 50 to 60 mg/dL: Average 60 mg/dL and above: Good
Learn About Your Cholesterol Levels
You can obtain your cholesterol levels by asking your doctor to administer a blood test. The NCEP recommends for people 20 and older to have their cholesterol tested every five years. For women, it is especially important to test for high cholesterol once they reach menopause. After a woman reaches menopause, her estrogen levels decrease, which lowers her HDL cholesterol levels. Women 45 and older should have their cholesterol levels checked annually.
Maintain a Desirable Cholesterol Level
To lower cholesterol, it is important to make changes in your diet and to exercise. Cut out fatty foods from your diet and eat plenty of heart-healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Exercise at least three times a week for 30 minutes or more per session. Get your heart pumping by jogging, swimming, cycling, or another activity of your choice. Stop smoking if you are a smoker. Last, ask your doctor if you are a good candidate for cholesterol-lowering medication.