Thoughts

What’s the Deal with Cholesterol?

After my first physical… ever?

I found out that my Cholesterol was “High.”

Now this didn’t come as a total surprise. My old company used to offer annual blood tests, which I kept in a Google Sheet.

YearTotal CholesterolLDLHDL
20131526762
201418810172
2015163>10059
201618210071
2017192>10076
2018223>100>100
202321411390
*The company didn’t track when LDL or HDL was higher than 100.

I started running in 2013, and my streak of running six or more miles in 2016. Looking back, I’m surprised my HDL wasn’t higher in 2017, but before we get there, what are Cholesterol, LDL, and HDL, and why should I care about them?

What is it?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance in your blood. Your body needs some of it, but 40% of Americans have high (>200) cholesterol.

Your liver creates 75% of your Cholesterol, and 25% is from your food.

A large percentage of your Cholesterol does not come from what you eat. Of the smaller portion, Saturated Fat is a higher contributor to cholesterol levels than the Cholesterol you consume. The American Heart Association says insufficient evidence exists that lowering cholesterol consumption reduces harmful cholesterol levels.

This is why eating egg yolks is now deemed acceptable.

However, things like butter and ice cream that are high in Saturated Fat and contain Cholesterol should be avoided.

Wait. Did Running Do This To Me?

I eat crap, so I figured that was the cause of my Cholesterol. But I also ate crap ten years ago when my Cholesterol was reasonable.

I am also ten years older, but dietary guidelines are static once you are an adult.

Higher HDL cholesterol levels were among the most pronounced effects of higher weekly running distance. Me running at least 3000 miles every year has contributed to having such a high HDL.

What are Good Cholesterol Levels?

  • Total Cholesterol: <200
  • LDL: <100
  • HDL: >60

This is the standard recommendation. I figured since my HDL(90) was so high, it was ok that my LDL (113) was slightly raised.

But, having HDL over 60 is not necessarily the best advice.

One recent study that examined high levels of HDL reported the benefits extended until 90 mg/dL in men.

Having a high HDL may prevent LDL from being cleared from your arteries.

More and more studies are coming out showing that HDL levels above 80 are detrimental with regards to cardiovascular outcomes.

So…

Pay attention to your total cholesterol and lower it with moderate exercise and reducing saturated fat consumption. 225 is the average total cholesterol of those with coronary artery disease. And although under 200 is recommended, we should be aiming for 150.

If you want to learn more about cholesterol, heart.org has more information than we deserve.

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