Dr. Anthony Field, Cardiologist, VP of Medical Affairs at Carson Tahoe

When it comes to reviewing your cholesterol panel, there is so much more to know than just the total cholesterol. Total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dl. The other sections of the cholesterol panel that are important factors in your overall health are triglycerides, high density lipoprotein or ‘good cholesterol,’ and low density lipoprotein or ‘bad cholesterol’.

According to the National Cholesterol Education Panel (NCEP), men’s HDL cholesterol should be greater than 45 mg/dl. Women’s HDL cholesterol should be greater than 50 mg/dl. If the HDL cholesterol is below 40 mg/dl, this is a risk factor for heart disease. The NCEP guidelines suggest that the cholesterol/HDL cholesterol ratio be less than 4.5. Anything greater is associated with increased risk of coronary artery disease. Exercise, niacin (large doses directed by your physician), low alcohol consumption and smoking cessation can all help raise the HDL cholesterol value.

Elevated triglycerides are also a risk factor for heart disease. Triglycerides should be less than 150 mg/dl. Exercise, weight loss, decreasing the carbohydrates in your diet and increasing dietary alpha omega-3-fatty acids (e.g., fish oil, flax seed oil and salmon products) can help decrease the triglyceride value.

The LDL cholesterol is the most discussed part of the cholesterol panel and should be 130 mg/dl or less if you are postmenopausal or greater than 45 years of age (without heart disease or diabetes). If you have heart disease or diabetes, the LDL cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dl. Exercise, smoking cessation and eating less saturated fat can help decrease cholesterol value.

Other risk factors for heart attack and stroke include aging, genetic background, smoking, diabetes, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. Hopefully this will clear up some of the confusion patients have when receiving their cholesterol panels. Feel free to leave comments and I will respond in a general manner. Above all, know your numbers and discuss your entire cholesterol panel and other risk factors with your doctor so that he can give you more specific answers and proper medical advice.