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  • Michael Sparks, MD

Let's Talk Cholesterol

When we look at a "lipid" or "cholesterol" panel, there are a few areas of focus. If we don't like the results, it doesn't always mean medication is the next step. Let's dive in.

First off, it's important to understand what the main components of a standard panel.

  • Total Cholesterol: This is your overall cholesterol level comprised of both "good" and "bad" cholesterol. We like to see this less than 200mg/dL

  • High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) Cholesterol: This is known as your "good" cholesterol. Some folks call it the garbage truck of cholesterol as it binds up and helps to remove "bad" cholesterol from our arteries. The higher the number the better.

  • Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) Cholesterol: This is known as your "bad" cholesterol. This type of cholesterol builds up in the blood vessels, making "plaque" and increasing the risks of heart attacks and strokes. The lower the number the better.

  • Triglycerides: This is a type of fat that comes from the foods we eat. Higher the number, the higher the risk of heart disease but also pancreatitis.

Do I need to fast (not eat or drink for many hours) before getting my cholesterol checked? Great question. It turns out no! Many docs previously advised everyone too fast every time before blood work but recent data suggests that fasting before a cholesterol panel is unnecessary most of the time, especially with routine screening.

My results aren't great. What can I do?

We may recommend medications, but this isn't always a necessary first step. Diet and exercise are key.

  • Stay Active. We don't expect you to go run a marathon tomorrow (okay, maybe some of you will) but we want to strive for 150 minutes of "moderate intensity" activity each week. Thats just 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week of something like brisk walking, cycling or swimming. This will help to lower LDL and increase HDL.

    • What if I have an active job, that counts right? Nope. We need 150 minutes of non-occupational activity each week. Sound like a lot? Start small. Set your first goal as 10 minutes a day and build up to the full amount.. Every bit helps!

  • More Veggies. Limit the amount of fried, fatty foods you eat and instead replace them with fresh fruits and veggies. When we think of a typical grocery store, try to focus on foods that come from the periphery of the store and not the boxed/processed ingredients in the middle aisles. Increasing our veggies and getting enough fiber helps to bind to cholesterol and eliminate it through the GI system.

So there you have it, a brief overview on cholesterol and how we can keep heart healthy and naturally improving our cholesterol panel.

More reading and resources:

Questions or comments? Leave them below! Or, if you are a current patient, send Dr. Sparks a text message directly.


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