Reviewed by Dr Eki Wari and Physician Jolene Chong on March 15, 2022
What Do Your Cholesterol Levels Say About Your Health?
Published | 8 min read
If you recently had your cholesterol levels checked but you aren't sure what those numbers mean, this guide can break it down for you. Plus, you'll learn tips for how to get your numbers where they need to be.
If you were recently shocked to learn that your cholesterol levels are high, you’re not alone. According to the CDC, almost 94 million American adults have elevated cholesterol levels. Meanwhile, 7% of our children have it, too.
High cholesterol often has no symptoms and increases your risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death. Therefore, it’s important to understand what your numbers mean. This guide explains what your cholesterol levels mean and how to keep them within a healthy range.
Understanding Your Cholesterol Levels
Unhealthy cholesterol levels may refer to low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is the “bad” or unhealthy kind of cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol can build up in the arteries, forming fatty, waxy deposits called plaques, thereafter clogging and making them hard and less flexible.
Over time, this build-up can cause the hardening and narrowing of arteries. This process is known as atherosclerosis, which results in blood flow to the organ being supplied by that artery being reduced or blocked. Meaning, the heart works harder to push blood through these stiff arteries.
Plaque buildup in coronary arteries can disrupt the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. If there is insufficient blood and oxygen to the heart, one may experience chest pain called angina, which is a temporary disruption of blood flow.
It is, however, a warning sign of a heart attack risk. A piece of plaque may eventually break off and fully block the blood flow to the heart. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage, a heart attack may occur. If this process occurs in the arteries going to or within the brain, it can result in a stroke.
Plaque can also block off the flow of blood to arteries that supply blood to your lungs, intestinal tract, and lower limbs and feet. This results in peripheral arterial disease (PAD).
How Do You Measure Cholesterol Levels?
As noted above, LDL cholesterol refers to the “bad” kind. Meanwhile, HDL or high-density lipoprotein is considered “good.” To check your cholesterol levels, your doctor will conduct a blood test called a lipoprotein panel.
In addition to checking your HDL and LDL, this test will tell you what your total cholesterol, non-HDL, and triglyceride levels are. Here’s what those terms mean:
- Total cholesterol: This number refers to a measure of the total amount of cholesterol you have in your body. It includes both HDL and LDL measures.
- HDL “good” cholesterol: This “good” type helps clear “bad” cholesterol buildup and blockage from your arteries.
- LDL “bad” cholesterol: This “bad” type is responsible for causing buildup and blockage in your arteries.
- Triglycerides: This number measures the amount of fat found in your blood that may increase your risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol levels are measured in units called milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Here are the healthy ranges for adult men and women age 20 and up:
|Total cholesterol:||125 to 200mg/dL for men and women|
|LDL cholesterol:||Less than 100 mg/dL for men and women|
|HDL cholesterol:||40 mg/dL or higher for men and 50 mg/dL for women|
Here are the health measurements for children aged 19 and under:
|Total cholesterol:||Less than 170 mg/dL|
|LDL cholesterol:||Less than 100 mg/dL|
|HDL cholesterol:||More than 45 mg/dL|
What Factors Influence Cholesterol Levels?
Your cholesterol levels can be influenced by many things, including diet, physical activity, weight, and whether or not you are a smoker. Other factors that may come into play are age, gender, race, and genetics.
Research shows that cholesterol levels increase as you age. Women’s LDL levels tend to go up after menopause. Additionally, high cholesterol may run in the family and certain races – such as African Americans – tend to have higher LDL and HDL levels.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), high cholesterol is due to the dysfunction of organs. This could result from factors such as an unhealthy lifestyle, stress, and an inappropriate diet.
According to registered TCM Physician Jolene Chong, “Good health typically depends on a good flow of blood and qi, along with a well-maintained yin-and-yang balance. Disharmony in this flow and balance can result in poor health. ”
How To Keep Your Cholesterol Levels In Check
Physician Chong stated that TCM categorizes a patient’s high cholesterol situation into different syndromes after understanding symptoms exhibited by one’s body, coupled with clinical signs observed through the tongue and pulse – namely:
- Spleen Deficiency – Phlegm Dampness
- Qi Stagnation – Blood Stasis
- Liver and Kidney Yin Deficiency
- Spleen and Kidney Yang Deficiency
Through analysis of these signs and symptoms, a TCM practitioner diagnoses the underlying pattern(s) of disharmony. After establishing one’s body constitution, treatment plans are customized according to the individual’s condition. Herbs are then chosen to make up the medicinal formula accordingly.
Physician Chong continued, “Chinese herbs are classified according to their functions and effects on the body (i.e., in turn, determined by the properties, nature, and characteristics of the herbs). There are several groups of herbs that address or resolve Dampness, Phlegm, Qi-Stagnation, and Blood Stasis. Other treatment methods, such as acupuncture, cupping, scrapping, and moxibustion can be considered to suit your treatment plan.”
Several Chinese herbs have been shown to have positive effects on lowering cholesterol. The list is extensive and includes the following:
- Dan Shen (Radix Salvia Miltiorrhiza)
- San Qi (Panax Notoginseng)
- Shan Zha (Fructus Crataegi)
- He Shou Wu (Polygonum Multiflorum)
- Huang Lian (Coptis Chinensis)
- Bai Guo (Ginkgo Biloba)
- Dang Gui (Angelicae Sinensis)
- Sheng Jiang (Fresh Ginger Rhizome)
- Ge Gen (Radix Puerariae)
- Jue Ming Zi (Semen Cassiae)
- Gou Qi Zi (Lycium Barbarum)
- Pu Huang (Pollen Typhae)
- Du Zhong (Cortex Eucmmiae Oppositae)
- Shan Yao (Radix Dioscoreae Oppositae)
- Fu Ling (Sclerotium Poriae Cocos)
- Bai Zhu (Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae)
- Gua Lou (Fructus Trichosanthis Kirlowii)
- Sheng Di Huang (Radix Rehmanniae Glutinosae)
- Sang Ji Sheng (Ramulus Loranthi Seu Visci)
- Nu Zhen Zi (Fructus Ligustri Lucidi)
- Ju Hua (Flos Chrysanthemi Morifolii)
- Ze Xie (Rhizoma Alismatis)
Some herbs also clear toxins within the body. The blood vessels, too, are detoxed, which helps prevent and treat cardiovascular conditions, such as atherosclerosis and cerebrovascular illnesses, including stroke.
Others lower blood pressure, improve bowel movements, and build a stronger digestive system. This reduces lipid absorption in the intestines and aids in weight management while tackling high cholesterol.
Performing acupoint self-massage regularly on the following areas may help:
- Zu San Li (ST36): Located four-fingers width below the knee cap and one finger width from the shin bone, on the tibial anterior muscle, along the Stomach meridian
- San Yin Jiao (SP6): Located four-fingers width above the tip of the medial malleolus (pointed bone on the inside of the ankle), along the Spleen meridian
- Feng Long (ST40): Located on the anterior of the lower leg, two finger-width from the anterior crest of the tibia, along the Stomach meridian
Upgrade Your Dietary And Lifestyle Habits
- Drink sufficient water (approximately 1.5 to 2 liters) daily
- Use less salt and sugar
- Do not overeat, chew your food well, and eat at an appropriate pace
- Consume more vegetables, fruit, mushrooms, barley, and oats to replenish Stomach Yin
- Avoid eating animal fat and organs, shellfish, cholesterol-rich foods, and sweets to reduce Phlegm and Dampness
- Limit alcohol and smoking
- Avoid negative emotions and learn to control stress levels
- Keep your home environment quiet with good air circulation and reduce noise pollution to keep spirits and mind calm
- Exercise for 30 minutes on three or more days a week to enhance qi and blood circulation
- Ensure sufficient rest and good sleep quality daily
- Have regular health checks and cholesterol level reviews from a doctor
- Use TCM herbal teas and supplements, such as Roobios tea and red yeast rice
Try TCM Congees
TCM congees are nourishing and easy-to-digest recipes featuring rice porridge. Here are some recipes Physician Chong recommends:
Hawthorn Congee (suitable for meat eaters)
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Ingredients: hawthorn 30g, red yeast rice 100g, rock sugar
- Directions: Boil hawthorn to concentrated juice and cook rice with juice. Sweeten with rock sugar as desired. Consume warm, once daily, for 10-12 days, and do not take on an empty stomach.
White Chrysanthemum & Cassia Seed Congee
- Ingredients: white chrysanthemum 10g, cassia seeds 10g, red yeast rice 50g, rock sugar
- Directions: Roast cassia seeds till fragrant, boil them with chrysanthemum, filter, and drain. Cook rice with filtrate till desired consistency. Sweeten with rock sugar as desired. Consume warm, once daily, for 5-7 days.
Keep in mind that you should never self-medicate. Always consult your doctor or a registered TCM physician before trying any of the remedies listed above. For patients who are consuming Western medications or other supplements, such as a statin, be sure to consult a doctor before combining treatments.
- CDC. 2021. High Cholesterol Facts.
- Medline. 2017. Cholesterol Levels: What You Need To Know.
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